Liberia: 11-Year-Old Likely to Suffer Fistula after Forceful Genital Cutting Went Wrong in Sande Bush


MONROVIA – Eleven-year-old Tracy, not her real name, never anticipated being kidnapped when she went out to sell along with other kids on September 15, 2022. The sounds of drums and sasa nearby increased the children’s curiosity to go and watch the Sande girls dancing, hence leading to their abduction.

Eyewitnesses said by order of the head Zoe, Famatta Musa, all female onlookers were seized by a group of women from the Sande Society in Kakata, Margibi County and circumcised the next day against their will.

Little Tracy’s case report, stated that she was chained by her both legs to stop her from escaping, while her face was tied with a black cloth and was eating only leftover food. Little Tracy was said to be released on October 3 by order of Internal Affairs Ministry upon the complaint of the church reaching the office.

“The child was circumcised beyond measure, which led to her profusely bleeding that they could not stop. In fact, when we found her, she was dying,” the doctor, who attended to her, literately cried, because he said she was cut beyond measure thereby leading to damage to her private part.

“So if we had not taken her when we did, she would have died in the Sande Bush. And they would have said the devil had swallowed her. The Zoe admitted that they chained the child because she was fighting them. But how can a little 11-year-old child fight those grown women,” said Rev. Noah Tour, National Vice President, United Liberia Inland Church.

According to the Benson Hospital Medical Report, a copy of which is in possession of this newspaper, the teenager’s clitoris was chopped off and a blood vessel was exposed which led to heavy vaginal bleeding. “She lost a lot of blood as evidently shown by the use of more than six sanitary pads a day. This led to her needing to be transfused with two units of blood to save her life,” the report says.

Tracy is among many little girls, young and middle-aged women who have been adopted and forcibly initiated into the Sande Society against their will. It can be recalled that in September of last year, a mother reported that her 15-year-old daughter along with her friends were adopted in Mount Barclay, a town near the capital, Monrovia, when a woman connected to the zoes (traditional leaders) forced the young girls into the Sande Bush, because they allegedly caused public disturbances.

Such was the same force initiation that was done to little Tracy.

Rev. Tour said when the 11-year-old was rescued from the Sande bush, she had to be placed in an ambulance, which rushed her from Kakata City to Benson Hospital in Monrovia. At the hospital, was given two pints of blood because she had lost a lot of the vital fluid blood. When she was taken later to the Family Medical Center, where she is presently is, another two pints of blood had to be transfused into her again.

“It was a barbaric act carried out on the child because she was chained like an animal when they cut her. Over five days after the act, she could not urinate by herself, because it was not the normal circumcision done to her but one beyond imagination. By right this zoe called Famatta Musa is supposed to be behind bars for such act, but the government is taking a slow pace and has not arrested her yet,” said Rev. Tour.

When contacted via mobile regarding the arrest of Zoe Famatta Musa, Assistant Minister for Culture Joseph Jangar, of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said they have not arrested her but the Ministry has ordered the Bush be closed. And the Zoe acted illegally under the three-year moratorium signed by the Traditional People, Government and the NGO community.

“We did not give her license to operate any bush, so she did it illegally and unknown to us and the county Superintendent. Even though we ordered the release of the child from the Sande Bush, but we have not arrested her, because we told her she is responsible to pay all the hospital bills to Benson Hospital and the other hospital the child was transferred to, because it was her doing,” said Minister Jangar. 

As to why Rev. Tour is among people who believe the government won’t take action against Zoe Musa, is because according to United Nations Mission in Liberia, (UNMIL) Assessment of Human Rights Issues and Harmful Traditional Practices in Liberia 2015 report, the Liberian authorities have consistently failed to bring the perpetrators of forcible initiation to justice.

The report furthered said Abduction and forcible initiation constitute criminal offenses under Liberian law, including kidnapping and assault and, in the absence of State intervention, violate human rights, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of movement, the right not to be illegally or arbitrarily detained, and the right not to be subjected to discrimination on account of religion or ethnic affiliation. One may consider that some forms of forcible initiation meet the definition of torture, due to the severe pain and suffering they inflict and their discriminatory nature or punitive purpose, which the Government is either unable or unwilling to address adequately. If all those conditions are not met, it would still most likely constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Rev. Tour said, had it not been for the church who stepped in, the family would have compromised the case because they said the Zoe had paid all the hospital bills, but the church said it was no longer a family matter but a matter of the state.

“We are saying enough is enough because everybody including the Government of Liberia, the Liberia Council of Churches, the Muslim Community and the traditional people all agreed to stop this act so they cannot keep violating. This must stop because it is barbaric. Nobody knows the fate of this little 11-year-old child, as to if she will ever have children or not. There is a likelihood she will suffer a fistula in the future because her private part is damaged. The Church will follow it to the letter and not only the Inland Church alone, but the entire Christian community. We will get the Independent Human Rights Commission, and other NGO involved,” he said.