‘Medical’ trend with female genital mutilation disturbs UN agency
Calling for stepped-up efforts against the traditional yet gruesome practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) sounded the alarm today against a new trend – parents using health-care workers to perform cutting in the belief that any medical problems can be minimized.
In an appeal for the International Day Against FGM, which is being observed tomorrow, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid voiced concern about what she dubbed the “medicalization” of the practice.
Some 3 million girls worldwide face the threat of undergoing FGM each year, and an estimated 120 to 140 million women have already been subject to the practice, which leaves lasting physical and psychological scars and increases the risks of problems during childbirth.
A study released by the UN last June found that pregnant mothers are far more likely to experience serious complications, such as the need to have caesarean section to dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth. The death rates among babies at birth and immediately after is also much higher – in some cases by as much as 55 per cent.
Ms. Obaid said increasing awareness about the physical risks posed by FGM has led more and more parents to turn to health-care professionals to carry out the cutting in clinical settings in the belief that it will be safer for the girl. Many health-care workers now come under pressure from families to agree to perform the surgery.
Ms. Obaid warned that younger and younger girls are being subjected to the practice by parents to reduce complaints or the possibility that they will refuse to participate.
To challenge proponents of FGM, Ms. Obaid said the Fund has learned that “laws need to be enforced, people need to be educated, and communities must be engaged… Contrary to popular belief, FGM or cutting is not required by any religion. In fact, many religious leaders and scholars and faith-based organizations from around the world have called for the practice to be banned.”
UNFPA is backing initiatives in several countries, including Uganda and Kenya, which offer alternative rites of passage to usher girls into adulthood without genital mutilation. In Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ethiopia and Egypt, the Fund works with religious and local community leaders, who serve as promoters of change. It also supports human rights activists to enforce existing laws banning the practice and to introduce similar laws into other countries.