Risking a Society’s Retribution, Growing Numbers of Girls Resist Genital Cutting

KAMAKWIE, Sierra Leone — When Seio Bangura’s final high school exam results arrived not long ago, she learned she had earned grades high enough to get into college. It was a thrilling moment for the daughter of farmers who never finished primary school. But Ms. Bangura is not making plans for university. Instead, she spends most days siting on a bench, watching others head to class or work.

Ms. Bangura, 18, left home almost five years ago, after her parents gave her a choice: to be initiated in a ceremony centered on genital cutting, or leave. The ceremony allows entrance to bondo, or “the society,” a term for the gender-and-ethnicity-based groups that control much of life here.

“My mom said, ‘If you won’t do bondo, you have to go,’” Ms. Bangura said, her voice low but her chin defiantly raised. The choice cut her off from her family’s financial support and left her unable to pay for further education or to marry.