The South Sudanese delegation in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) yesterday March 8 introduced a bill they say seeks to maintain the “dark skin complexion” of their women and all east Africans.
Thoar Gatpan Gideon, in a private members bill brought during the session in Zanzibar where the regional parliament is holding the latest rotational sitting, said the substance ‘hydroquinone’ must be banned across the five member states.
Hydroquinone is a major component in the manufacture of skin lightening creams. Some studies have linked it to skin cancer and horrific skin breakdown among women using it excessively.
There are thousands of creams on the market, all possessing differing quantities of hydroquinone.
Rwanda late last year launched a massive crackdown on such creams. Ten of thousands of creams have been seized, and the operation continues.
Less than 30 countries globally mainly in Europe including Rwanda, the United States, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast and UAE – have declared Hydroquinone-made creams illegal. Others are Japan and Malaysia.
However, enforcement remains sluggish, more so because there has not been any conclusive scientific study on the dangers of Hydroquinone to the skin.
The other ingredients commonly used in skin creams are mercury and steroids – and sometimes all the three are put in a single cream, say industry experts.
For Susan Nakawuki, the EALA member from Uganda, skin bleaching must be dealt with as matter of regional emergency.
“In Juba where girls are black by nature you find some girls with changed skin that has black spots on their bodies, which clearly shows that they were originally of black complexion,” said Nakawuki, to journalists outside the EALA chamber.
Under Article 59 of the EAC Treaty, EALA Members can introduce any Bill in the Assembly provided that it relates to the functions of the Community. However, such a Bill shall not among other things impose any charge upon the fund of the Community.
The Assembly enacts legislation of the Community by passing bills which must be assented to by all six Heads of State for it to be an Act of the Community.
For the ban on hydroquinone to come into effect, if indeed it gets through EALA, it can only become regional law if it gets on the agenda of the Leaders’ summit and then approved by all of them.