A Scene of  initiates                                                                  


Tales of exploiting people never get outdated, nor do they genuinely ever end. In Sierra Leone, depending on who one speaks to or the scenario that emerges, there has been no lack of intentions, particularly when one side is seen and or believed to have been oppressed as a supposed Sowei (leader of Bondo Society) has forsaken her traditional obligations.

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Young Sowei (mother and victim)

This medium has confirmed that a young Sowei (leader of the Bondo Secret Society) in the east end of the capital, Freetown, Sierra Leone, has abandoned initiates and aggrieved mothers and members of the Bondo secret society are threatening reprisal actions. In Sierra Leone 'Bondo.' is the most basic term for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In the same news a student who was scheduled to write the West African Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is said to have been removed from a Bondo secret society bush, which mostly happens during school holidays particularly the months of April, July, August and December. In some countries, the initiates are expected to be 18 years and older, but in a nation like Sierra Leone, kids as young as three/four/five years have all been victims. The practice is a 'don't ask don't tell' situation, however the fact is it has been on the rise since the coronavirus pandemic and in some areas, it is also a demonstration of the obvious, as it is of general knowledge.

With the 2023 June 24 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections swiftly coming near, politicians are financing these Sowei, Bondo and other secret societies as a way of soliciting support from women, traditional authorities, and the local population.

The West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination commenced on the 8th May 2023 and the government of Sierra Leone has granted money for 21,2721 students to take the exams to help enhance access to higher education. 

Report monitored at our media house signifying that on the early hours of Wednesday 5th April, 2023 in the Mayenkineh Hills at Calaba Town, East end of Freetown, Madam Yabom Mansaray, the mother of seventeen-year-old Isatu Mansaray went and forcibly removed her daughter from the Bondo bush, where she had been sent two weeks ago to take her to her village for finalization of the rituals into the Bondo society so she would be free and on time to take the WASSCE examination. When we talked with Isatu, she grieved her awful experience of resting on a bare floor for weeks with nothing to show for it. She clarified that the old 'Sowei' is sick and her daughter who was supposed to mentor them through the process has escaped and is now nowhere to be found. Madam Yabom Mansaray stated that she wants her daughter to be a complete woman (by initiation is a rite of passage to womanhood) before she turns eighteen and ready for marriage, she guaranteed to chastise the old Sowei (Ya Kiptieu) to the tribal chief to reclaim her Le300 she paid for the initiation. 

‘We found the 'sowei' Ya Kiptieu Conteh who has moved to Camp Junction in Waterloo’. She stated that she was unable to fast during the past Ramadan as she is unwell. She continued that her daughter who is intended to follow her has let her down and that is why the 'gods' want to take her life, as the Bondo Society Mascaraed has been passed down from generations to the next. She said that now is the time for her daughter to emulate her and pass it on to her granddaughter.

Fatmata Bintu Conteh is the name of the young sowei that left her mother. We tracked down her husband's family house, off Sanda Street, Mayenkineh, Calaba Town. We were informed that she moved to Tengbeh Town in the west end of Freetown. People in the neighbourhood testified that she has been quarrelling with her family and Sowei Elders over her taking after her mother and the initiation of her daughter into the secret society. 

A group of women we interviewed, most of whom had daughters in the abandoned Bondo bush said, Fatmata has brought shame and disgrace to the sacred Bondo tradition and that the result will be catastrophic. They mentioned that she must be brought to the society bush to answer for her misdeeds. They explained that the deteriorating health of the old Sowei (Fatmata’s mother), who has failed to pass the role on to her daughter, was only the beginning of what may befall her family if cleansing is not done for this sacrilege she has committed. 

We tried reaching Madam Fatmata Bintu Conteh, but she was constantly unreachable. Sources state that she has run away in the midst of criticism, dangers and family pressure.

Despite the dire consequences of FGM, the Sierra Leonean government has failed to make it a crime. The Penal Code is mute on the subject, and no legal proceedings against the practice have been documented. Gender discrimination in Sierra Leone also keeps laws that defend the rights of women and girls from being applied to defend them against FGM and those who inflict it. The reluctance of political entities to address the issue, along with the government's refusal to vocally oppose FGM, has only served to worsen the issue. More should be done to protect our girls particularly when government is putting in a lot to enhance girls' education.

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