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Historical archive

Criminalizing early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Children and Equality

The challenges facing the Governments of the Gambia and Senegal

At the Clarion Royal Hotel Oslo 6th of june Organized by Musu Kangbeng Kafo (MKBK)

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Speech held at the Clarion Royal Hotel Oslo  6th of june
Organized by Musu Kangbeng Kafo (MKBK)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am extremely pleased to be invited here today, to this very important conference, and to be given the opportunity to discuss two issues that I feel very strongly about – female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

I am honoured to greet our distingyished guests from Senegal and the Gambia. Honoralbe Minister Ndeye Khady Diop and Madame Coura Ba from Senegal, and from the Gambia, Madame Aida Faye Hydara and Dr. Isatou Touray.

I also wish to greet the learned Islamic scholars who are present.

Your presence and participation here today is a testimony of the seriousness and the importance that is being placed on the issue of female genital mutilation and forced marriage at the very highest political lever in Senegal and the Gambia.

Your dedication is a great inspiration and help in bringing the fight forward and to finally defeat the practice of these harmful traditions, both here in Norway and in the Gambia and Senegal.

I will give a general outline of of the work against FGM (female genital mutilation) and forced marriage in Norway. I shall then focus on the National Action Plan against FGM, before I move to our International Action Plan against FGM.

Norway’s efforts to combat FGM and forced marriage.

FGM in all its form, forced marriage and marriage of children under 16, are illegal in Norway.

With reference to the Human Rights Convention, the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of Women in Africa (the “Maputo Protocol”), we encourage public and private efforts in the Gambia and Senegal to fight FGM and forced early marriage.
As for Norway, we have sought to combat forced marriage and FGM for several years.

The first Action Plan against Forced Marriage was launched in 1998, and in 2000 we got the first national action plan against FGM. In 2003 we also launched an international action plan against FGM.

We now have our third national action plan on both topics. For those of you interested in studying the two plans more closely, I have brought with me some copies, both in Norwegian and English. Also, they can be accessed on the Norwegian government’s web-site.

In Norway, both forced marriage and FGM are types of violence that are specific to certain ethnic minority groups. The Norwegian Government are explicit on the point that cultural background, religion or tradition cannot excuse violence, including violence in the family or in other close relations.

In the past 30 years, NGOs, and in particular women NGOs, have been important actors in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Women NGOs have ensured that domestic violence has been put on the agenda, and they have played an essential role in providing direct assistance to victims of domestic violence, forced marriages, trafficking in human beings and female genital mutilation.

The main challenge in combating FGM lies primarily within the affected groups themselves. Changing attitudes and practices can only be achieved by the active involvement within affected groups. In order to assist this prosess the Government supports groups and organisations that work against female genital mutilation, as we have supported this conference.

It is a challenge for the authorities to find a good balance between information and efforts to change attitudes on the one hand, and control and law enforcement on the other. We think that both strategies have to be implemented.

It is important to support NGOs, but it also very important that people who break the law are prosecuted. FGM and forced marriage is forbidden by law for in Norway. This legislation applies to everyone who are resident in Norway, and perpetrators will be prosecuted.

For certain professional groups it is an offence not to attempt to prevent FGM. Furthermore, everyone who works for public bodies or services have a statutory duty to report to The Municipal Child Welfare Service (MCWS) any suspicion that a child is being maltreated in his/ her home or exposed to other forms of neglect. FGM is regarded as gross neglect. A justified concern or suspicion that a girl child may be subjected to FGM must therefore always be reported to Child Welfare Service. There may sometimes also be a duty to report cases where FGM has already been carried out. The duty to report to the Child Welfare Service also applies to cases of forced marriage if the boy or girl is under 18.

As I have mentioned, the first Norwegian Action Plan to combat FGM was published in 2000. The present plan, which is the third, runs till 2011. Its main objective is prevention. The focus is on changing attitudes through dialogue and dissemination of information involving the groups concerned. We know that changing perceptions and attitudes will take time, but we strongly believe this to be the right approach in the long run. 

The action plan contains 41 measures which may be grouped under the following 6 main categories:

  • Competence building and transfer of knowledge
  • Prevention and opinion building
  • Available relevant health services
  • Intensified efforts during holiday periods
  • Effective enforcement of legislation
  • Strengthened international efforts

The main points of the action plan can be summarised as follows:

Firstly, it is of fundamental importance that all relevant actors are involved. As many as sevem Ministries are engaged, all levels of administration, child welfare services and police to mention but some.

Secondly, civil society must be engaged. We are working closely with women’s organisations such as Musu Kambeng Kaffo (MKBK), We work with faith based organizations, immigrant organizations and individuals. We target networks both for men and women. And indeed religious leaders are important allies, so I am pleased to know that we have an Islamic delegation with us today.

To support the good work of the NGOs, we have established a support scheme on 3 million kroner per year to the preventive and opinion-shaping efforts of NGOs. It is the Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs that administer this scheme.

Thirdly, we have no doubt that sound information and knowledge is important. We need to inform and educate people on the serious health consequences of FGM. We know that a large number of women who have suffered extensive forms of genital mutilation develop chronic and serious physical disorders. They also have a higher risk of complications in childbirth. Recent research indicates that women with less extensive FGM also have a higher risk of disorders and complications during childbirth. The risk increases the more extensive the procedure. I wish to stress that in this country all types of FGM are illegal

Knowing all the health problems that are connected to FGM, it is important for us to ensure that young girls and women get the right and proper health care.

There has been a political debate in Norway on the role of clinical examinations. It is the policy of the government that such examinations should be offered to women and girls from countries where FGM is prevalent. This year we introduce new routines whereby we offer a clinical examination of all girls and women arriving in Norway from countries were the prevalence of FGM are 30% or more. One municipality in Norway have had this practice for several years already, with good results. We hope that this offer will be accepted by many women and girls in order that they may be given necessary treatment at an early stage. Furthermore, from 2010 we will offer girls from relevant countries the opportunity of a clinical examination and a supportive talk with a qualified nurse at the age of 5, 10 and 15.

The International Action Plan against FGM

Our efforts to combat female genital mutilation in Norway can not succeed however, without concerted effort in countries where this tradition is widely practiced. Norway is therefore actively engaged in supporting initiatives and programmes in many countries to combat this practice, through our international action plan.

Our efforts against female genital mutilation enjoy wide political support at the highest level. This is reflected in our strong international engagement to fight this practice, and in the rapid increase in our funds allocated this effort internationally, more than doubling from 2005 to 2008 to present USD 6,5 mill. Norway supports a wide range of programmes in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Somalia, and Sudan. We also support the UNs joint programme against female genital mutilation that aims to combat the practice in 17 countries in Africa, including the Gambia and Senegal.

The human rights of women and children are our starting point. Our approach is based on a long-term perspective in close cooperation with local and national governments, as well as civil society actors and organisations. Prevention, social mobilisation, as well treatment and rehabilitation are key areas of engagement. As I already have mentioned, in our view, the process of changing people’s perceptions and attitudes towards these practices is essential to generate behavioural change. This must start at the local community level, and be aided and encouraged by national government pressure. Political dialogue, advocacy and cooperation with all relevant actors are essential. The involvement of men is absolutely vital. We also consider the adoption and implementation of national laws as an important starting point. Our aim is to contribute to setting female genital mutilation high on the political agenda, and to the eventual abolishment of the practice.

Despite the fact that countless girls and young women suffer female genital mutilation every day, reports show that the fight pays off. Among others, we see that:

  • Girls, young women and men officially declares themselves as opposed to the practice;
  • Resistance movements are emerging among different groups in many countries;
  • The practice has been abandoned several places;
  • Many countries have adopted national laws against the practice. The last country to do so was Eritrea in 2007;
  • In many countries, people have been convicted for performing the practice, or for letting their daughters be genitally mutilated. This has happened in Burkina Faso, Kenya and Ghana;
  • Female genital mutilation has become part of the official debate in many affected societies, and women increasingly play a larger role;
  • The number of girls and young women being subjected to female genital mutilation is on the decline in countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Such results inspire continued effort.

We must, and will continue our strong commitment to contribute to the fight against female genital mutilation, both nationally and internationally. Civil society actors and organisations, as well as national governments have important roles as advocates and change agents. These are important partners for us. The exchange of experience and information is important for learning lessons and for bringing this fight forward, both here and abroad. This seminar is one such arena.

Last, but certainly not least, I wish to extend a great thanks to MKBK for taking the initiative to organise this conference and for setting female genital mutilation and forced marriage on the political agenda.

And of course, Neneh, for being the driving force, for making this conference possible, and for being an inspiration to us all.

Closing remarks

The Norwegian government emphasise dialogue with all relevant actors including national governments. We are therefore particularly glad that representatives of the Gambian and Senegalese governments are present here today. This gives us a great opportunity to deepen our dialogue on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. We look forward to continue our discussions.

Finally, I will emphaziseWomen NGOs important roles. During the last 30 yers in Norway ensured that domestic violence have been put on the national official agenda. They have played an indispensable role in the wery importent work to end harmul pracisses as domestic violence, forced marriages, trafficking in human beings and female genital mutilation.

Thank you for your attention.

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