By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Burkina Faso police have arrested at least 28 people for female genital mutilation, the biggest crackdown to date, after 50 girls were hospitalised, government officials said on Wednesday.
Police arrested 22 people including the cutters and girls' relatives in the capital Ouagadougou on Saturday after an anonymous tip-off, said Stephanie Nikiema, spokeswoman for the ministry of women, national solidarity and family.
Separately, a cutter and five suspected accomplices were arrested near the northern city of Kaya last week, said Ursule Taro, a representative of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision.
The girls who were cut ranged in age from 10 months to their early twenties, Taro said. All were taken to hospital and are expected to recover.
The Ouagadougou operation was the biggest mass arrest to date for FGM in Burkina Faso, which became one of the first African countries to ban the practice in 1996, said Nikiema.
"I think this will serve as an example for people who are still cutting their girls in hiding," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"There are no small number of communities who have cut their girls who apologise to the ministry, saying they've understood. We are saying it's in the hands of the law," she said.
In Burkina Faso, FGM involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris, which can cause serious health problems and increases the risk of complications in childbirth.
It is widely seen as a prerequisite for marriage by practicing communities, and about 76 percent of women in Burkina Faso have been cut, according to the United Nations.
September is the "season" for FGM because school has not yet started and the corn is high, so people hide in the fields to do it, said Taro.
"The practice has fallen completely into secrecy," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We hope that people will see that if they continue to do it we can catch them." Offenders face up to three years in prison or up to 10 years if the girl dies, and may also be fined up to 900,000 CFA Francs ($1,613).
The suspects in Ouagadougou, 19 women and three men, will be brought before the prosecutor on Thursday, said Nikiema.
Several activists said they were encouraged that people were using the government hotline to report offenders.
"The denunciations prove that people are joining the fight," said Raphael Zong Naba, coordinator of Burkinabe women's rights group Voix de Femmes.
($1 = 557.7000 CFA francs) (Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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