Journal Article

The perceived effects of COVID-19 pandemic on female genital mutilation/cutting and child or forced marriages in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal

The effects of COVID-19 on harmful traditional practices such Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and Child or Forced Marriages (CFM) have not been well documented. We examined respondents’ perceptions on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected FGM/C and CFM in Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, and Ethiopia.

A cross-sectional study design with a mixed methods approach was used. Data collection on participants’ perceptions on the effects of COVID-19 on FGM/C and CFM took place between October-December 2020. Household surveys targeting women and men aged 15–49 years in Kenya (n = 312), Uganda (n = 278), Ethiopia (n = 251), and Senegal (n = 208) were conducted. Thirty-eight key informant interviews with programme implementers and policymakers were carried out in Kenya (n = 17), Uganda (n = 9), Ethiopia (n = 8), and Senegal (n = 4).

In Kenya, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the increase in both FGM/C and CFM cases. Minimal increase of FGM/C cases was reported in Uganda and a significant increase in CFM cases. In Ethiopia, the COVID-19 pandemic had a limited perceived effect on changes in FGM/C and CFM. In Senegal, there were minimal perceived effects of COVID-19 on the number of FGM/C and CFM cases. The pandemic negatively affected implementation of interventions by the justice and legal system, the health system, and civil societies.

The pandemic has had varied perceived effects on FGM/C and CFM across the four countries. Generally, the pandemic has negatively affected implementation of interventions by the various sectors that are responsible for preventing and responding to FGM/C and CFM. This calls for innovative approaches in intervening in the various communities to ensure that women and girls at risk of FGM/C and CFM or in need of services are reached during the pandemic. Evidence on how effective alternative approaches such as the use of call centres, radio talk shows and the use of local champions as part of risk communication in preventing and responding to FGM/C and CFM amid COVID-19 is urgently required.