The recent death of Fatmata Turay, a 19 year-old girl from Makeni, Sierra Leone, who died after a botched female genital mutilation (FGM) operation has continued to cause a public outrage. There are loud  calls from rights groups for the government to take a tough stance on the harmful practice.

The teenage school-girl was circumcised in an initiation ceremony, which is part of rite of passage into the Bondo society, reportedly a powerful women run secret society central to culture and identity in Sierra Leone. According to reports, the three women initiators, who were involved in the operation, have since been arrested, and investigations continue.

The practice remains widespread and it is silently practiced in parts of the country. Rights groups campaigning against FGM, including FORWARD, which works with Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement in Sierra Leone have called for “the total abandonment of FGM as part of the Bondo ceremony”.

According to a report released early this year by Unicef, FGM is more rampant across the world, affecting more girls and women, than previously thought. FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls and women across a swathe of Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, seen by many families as a gateway to marriage and way to preserve a girl’s virginity, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

Read: 200 million girls and women victims of genital mutilation Unicef says

Following the Ebola crisis, which rampaged West Africa, Sierra Leone banned all forms of FGM. However, the ban has not been officially lifted, and the practice continues unabated.

Sierra Leone has also ratified the 2003 Maputo protocol, an African charter of women’s rights, which calls for the elimination of harmful practices including FGM, but the country is yet to totally abolish the practice.

Despite calls by activists for a systemic cultural shift to end FGM, the practice remains prevalent in parts of Africa.

At least 20 African countries have outlawed the practice.

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