REUTERS, Friday, 8 March 2002

6,000 Girls Reportedly Circumcised Every Day

Fri Mar 8,10:30 AM ET By Tom Miles

LONDON (Reuters) - About 6,000 girls a day undergo genital mutilation, often willingly, and up to 115 million African women have already had it, US-based development agency World Vision said on Thursday.

And bizarre beliefs abound about female genital mutilation (FGM), such as, if a woman is not circumcised, her husband will die; she will give birth to an abnormal baby, or her genitals may grow to an enormous size.

These tales have helped perpetuate the practice in more than 30 countries, Fatuma Hashi, the report's author, said.

"The worst perpetrators of FGM are women themselves," Hashi said, adding that girls fear being ostracized and older women cling to tradition, unaware of the health risks.

FGM is a cultural practice with roots predating the spread of the major religions. Nevertheless, "erroneous beliefs that the Christian Bible and the Muslim Koran demand it are widespread," Hashi said.

The report highlighted cases in Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana, and described a Kenyan woman ordering her twin daughters to shower in ice-cold water in preparation for circumcision.

"With the freezing water's numbing effect serving as the only form of anesthesia, Mary sits akimbo on a sheepskin, her limbs clamped down by other women to discourage even the slightest movement to prevent unintentional cutting.

"In an operation that lasts several minutes, an elderly woman takes several swipes at Mary's genitals using a sharp razor blade."

Cultures which practiced FGM gave many reasons for it, including preserving virginity, enhancing personal hygiene or attractiveness, easing childbirth and achieving status for the girl or her father.

Types of FGM ranged from clitoridectomy to infibulation, in which the clitoris and labia minora are removed and the labia majora are pinned together with catgut or thorns, leaving only a pinhole opening for urine and menstrual blood.

Infibulation, also called "pharaonic" circumcision, leaves scar tissue which must be cut open before intercourse and the birth of each child.

Apart from the short-term consequences of FGM such as extreme pain, blood loss, gangrene and infections, many girls went on to suffer pain during sexual intercourse, infertility, incontinence, depression and long-term psychological problems.

It sometimes caused death from hemorrhage, blood poisoning, urine retention or led to HIV infection.

FGM could also lead to problems at childbirth, and many women suffered constant bleeding, slow sexual arousal and an inhibited orgasm, or no orgasm at all.

"Sex and suffering become synonymous to females both young and old," the report said. "Having no acceptable way of addressing their feelings, these girls and women mostly suffer in silence."

The report quoted an official of an African community education group as saying half the battle was to convince traditional midwives, who birth over 80% of Africa's babies and who are trusted by mothers.

"It's the midwives who either circumcise girls themselves, or encourage mothers to circumcise daughters," the official said.

Cite as:
(File prepared 08 March 2002)

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