The Paramount Chief of Mano Dasse Chiefdom in the southern Moyamba district has attributed the high rate of teenage pregnancy to the continued ban on “Bondo” the female circumcision initiation secret society.

Bondo is an established tradition in Sierra Leone through which women go through the rites of passage.

However, at the height of the Ebola epidemic the government placed a temporary ban on the practice because it was seen as a source of transmission of the deadly virus.

PC Haja Fatmata Koroma Mecua-Kajue said many young girls indulge in sex at an early age – with some getting pregnant – “because they were not privileged to be initiated into the Bondo society.”

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She was speaking to Politico last week, on the sidelines of a meeting organised by the civil society organisation Fambul Tok International, which was aimed at fostering peace and development in the district.

“Bondo is an institution that has helped transform many girls into productive women who are contributing to national development”, said PC Mecua-Kajue. She lambasted campaigners against the practice saying they were seeking to outlaw a crucial tradition. “They are trying to water down female secret society, an institution where our girls are being taught their roles and responsibilities in society so that they can become responsible women” she said.

The woman Paramount Chief condemned the criticism against the Bondo society, describing it as an attempt to impose Western culture on Africans, something she said “…that doesn’t go down well with me as the Bondo society is a secluded place where girls are taught on how to uphold their moral values, how to protect themselves from early and unwanted pregnancies and many other values that they should know as they grow from childhood to maturity”.

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Campaigners against FGM cite the adverse health implications on women and girls. But Mrs Mecua-Kajue dismissed all these as unrealistic. “I’m in support of FGM…I was initiated into Bondo secret society and gave birth to seven children,” she said. She urged the heads of male secret society groups in the country to equally educate young boys on their roles in their communities during initiation rites, noting that most girls were impregnated by their peers.

Fambul Tok, which is renowned for its efforts in promoting post-war reconciliation in some parts of the country, was invited by by PC Mecau-Kajue to start operations in other sections within her chiefdom to further strengthen peace and unity.

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John Caulker, Executive Director of the international NGO, told Politico that they had extended their operations in the remaining districts to ensure that people there participated in the preparation of the ‘Chiefdom People Plan’, a strategic document he said would address the chiefdom’s post-Ebola recovery issues.

“The meeting that was held with the Paramount Chief, representatives from other sections, civil society and non-governmental organisations, was to prepare communities on how to take part in the plan,” Caulker explained.