News 24, South Africa, 22 January 2004.

Row over `soft circumcision'

22/01/2004 12:58 - (SA)

Florence - A proposal by a hospital in Florence to offer its female patients from Africa a toned down version of genital mutilation has sparked a nationwide debate in Italy.

Omar Abdulkadir, a Somalian gynaecologist who heads the Careggi hospital's centre for the prevention of female genital mutilation, has proposed substituting the traditional African rite of infibulation with a needle prick on a child's clitoris.

"An anaesthetic ointment would be used and only a drop of blood would be spilled. In this way, the ritual would be preserved, but with no pain or damage," Abdulkadir was quoted by La Repubblica daily as saying.

Local representatives from African countries say the proposal, which is being backed by Tuscany's regional government, seeks to accommodate African immigrants who refuse to give up the rite.

"Simply being against infibulation is not enough," local representatives wrote in a letter sent to Tuscany's health authorities.

Useless and cruel

"While some of us understand that this practice is useless, cruel and not prescribed by our religion, others are still too attached to their culture and see the rite as the best possible thing for their daughters," the authors said.

The proposal, however, has been strongly criticised by Carolina Lussana, a Northern League lawmaker who has drafted a bill seeking to outlaw what is sometimes referred to as "female circumcision".

"Infibulation, however soft and painless, is still an act of unacceptable violence, both physical and moral, which damages defenceless children," she told the Ansa news agency.

Lussana said female genital mutilation is "a barbarous practice" that must be eradicated rather than a "tradition to be respected".

The World Health Organisation, which at 1979 conference in Sudan condemned the mutilations as disastrous to women's health and as indefensible on medical as well as humane grounds, estimates that more than 120 million African women have been subjected to the practice. - Sapa-dpa

(File created 23 January 2004)