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Female genital mutilation ongoing in spite of inroads made to abandon practice

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, still performed in parts of Africa and Middle East, are done to ensure young females' virginity. In spite of inroads to ban the practice worldwide, the United Nations reports that at least 30 million young women remain at risk. While communities are becoming more open to discontinue the practice, a recent report has found that these groups feel compelled to continue as part of their cultural tradition.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The U.N. children's agency UNICEF warned on Monday as it launched the first comprehensive overview of the practice. More than 125 million girls and women have been subjected to the ordeal, according to the report.

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia. In its most extreme form, the vaginal opening is sewn closed.

The practice remains deeply entrenched. Girls who are not cut are often ostracized in their tribes, villages or communities. Many families from both Muslim and Christian communities also believe FGM is a religious requirement -- even though there is no mention of it in either the Koran or Bible.

"(FGM) is a violation of a girl's rights to health, well-being and self-determination," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta says. "What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned."

Thousands of years old, FGM is often seen as a manifestation of patriarchal control. However, the report shows a growing number of men and boys oppose the ritual. A surprise found in the study is that in three countries - Chad, Guinea and Sierra Leone - more men than women want FGM to end.

UNICEF says girls and women consistently underestimate the proportion of boys and men who are against FGM and that the tradition is being kept alive partly because of a lack of communication on the issue, which is often shrouded in secrecy.  

There are hopeful trends: In Kenya, girls between 15 and 19 are three times less likely to have been cut than women 30 years older. Prevalence has also halved among adolescent girls in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.

There has been no significant change in Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen however.

Usually carried out with unsterilized instruments, FGM can cause severe health and psychological problems. In some cases, girls bleed to death or die from infections. Later in life, FGM can lead to complications in childbirth and increase the risk of the mother and/or baby dying.

Most disturbing is the trend in some countries is towards "medical-izing" the procedure - something that has alarmed campaigners. Traditional cutters usually perform FGM but in Egypt, Kenya and Sudan doctors and other health workers also carry it out.

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