Speaking at a conference on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Mogadishu recently, Somalia’s attorney general, Ahmed Ali Dahir, announced that the country will conduct its first FGM prosecution after 10-year-old Deeqa Dahir Nuur’s death. The attorney general said that state prosecutors and the criminal investigation bureau have been dispatched to collect evidence.
Also attending the event, which was hosted by the Global Media Campaign to End FGM and the Ifrah Foundation, Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Gulaid said, “It is not acceptable that in the 21st century FGM is continuing in Somalia. It should not be part of our culture. It is definitely not part of the Islamic religion.”
“The prosecution of those involved in Deeqa’s death will send a strong message to the country,” he added. “This is really a defining moment for Somalia.”
Hawa Aden Mohamed, executive director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, said in a statement that “the circumciser is suspected to have cut an important vein in the course of the operation”. Little Deeqa’s death is the most publicised death in many years as FGM and the complications that come with it are rarely discussed in Somalia – despite statistics in a UNICEF FGM advocacy paper that in Somalia, FGM prevalence is about 95 percent and is primarily performed on girls aged 4 to 11.
Even with numerous internationally recognised laws against FGM, lack of validation in Islam and global advocacy to eradicate the practice, it remains embedded in Somali culture.
According to the Guardian, the publicity and consequent government action in this case is thanks to Nafisa Ogle, a Somalian journalist and distant relative of Deeqa. She told the newspaper that she found out about the girl’s death when Deeqa’s uncle asked her for a large container to help prepare the girl’s body for burial.
“I said: ‘What do you need the container for?’ And he said to wash the body; the girl had died from the cut. By then they had brought Deeqa to the hospital. I went to check if it was true, and I put the news out on Twitter. Then many journalists came to report what had happened to her.”
Ogle said that Deeqa and her three sisters had been taken by their mother to Olol village in Galmudug state, where the traditional cutter performing the operation is believed to have severed a vein. Deeqa was taken to hospital, where she haemorrhaged to death two days later.
“The mother is going completely crazy – she had her three other daughters cut at the same time, by the same cutter. The sad thing is that the parents think FGM is normal and did not recognise the dangers,” Ogle said.
Somali journalist @NafisaOgle promised our media training academy a documentary in memory of 10 yr old Deka who died as a result of FGM last week. We at @GMCEndFGM will do everything we can to help her keep her promise https://t.co/NuzeMXBSyI #ForDeka pic.twitter.com/GAQ4FUn8uh
— End FGM (@GMCEndFGM) July 24, 2018
Maggie O’Kane, director of the Global Media Campaign to End FGM, the organisers of the conference, said the attorney general’s announcement was being heralded in Somalia as “huge”, but warned that progress on banning circumcision may be slower than hoped.
“The fact that the attorney general has put his head way above the parapet and said he will prosecute is extraordinary,” said O’Kane.
“We will see how huge and fierce the debate in Somalia will be if the prosecution does go ahead. But it will be a long road for a country that hasn’t yet even banned FGM.”
Hawa Aden Mohamed, executive director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, a Somali nongovernmental agency that advocates for women’s rights, said in a statement that in Somalia lawmakers are “afraid of losing their political clout among the all-powerful conservative traditional and religious groups bent on retaining the practice,” the Associated Press reported.
This, coupled with the ideology that FGM is tradition and a religious obligation, makes the practice difficult to eradicate. In fact, Deeqa’s father was quoted by international media defending the practice, saying he believed his daughter was “taken by Allah”.