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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Trois millions de filles excisées chaque année

by By Damien Roustel

Female Genital Mutilation; Three Million Girls Are Being Cut Every Year

Translated by Jayne Poland

Translated Monday 20 February 2006, by Jane

Female Genital Mutilation: Three million girls are being cut every year.

Human Rights: The United Nations has designated 6 February “the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.”

There are tens of millions of girls who suffer in silence. Physically injured, psychologically scarred, they keep quiet for fear of suffering the disapproval of their families, their villages or even more so the wider community to which they belong. These women have been the victims of genital mutilation, most often cutting. This thousand year old practice, which continues more out of custom than for religious reasons, can range from “a small incision of the clitoris to the partial or complete removal of the external genital organs, and to the partial sealing of the vaginal area (infibulation)”, explains UNICEF, the UN agency which is responsible for child welfare.

This operation has serious consequences. As well as the lack of pleasure during sexual intercourse, cutting can cause intense pain, haemorrhage, infection, infertility and sometimes, even death. Childbirth becomes more difficult. According to the United Nations which four years ago designated 6 February “the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation”, 130 million women throughout the world have been victims of this “violation of the most basic human rights of women and girls.”

In a report published at the end of November, the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, based in Florence, provides the most recent overview of this phenomenon. The document entitled “Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting”, states that this practice “is much more widespread than previously thought.” Each year three million girls in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East undergo cutting. The previous report put the number at two million victims. According to UNICEF that doesn’t mean an increase but rather better data collection.

In total, 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East are involved. Religion is not the determining factor, even if it must often be taken into account, since cutting is practised amongst Christians in Ethiopia and unknown in Muslim countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Iran. With more than 90% of their women cut, the countries most involved are Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Mali. “Although there are indications that in certain countries (Benin, Burkina-Faso, Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Yemen), the rates of prevalence are declining, little progress has been made in the decrease of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) on a global scale”, UNICEF points out in its report. In certain countries, the cutting of young girls is being practised earlier and earlier. “This can be explained by the desire of parents to hide from the authorities and/or the wish to encounter less resistance on the part of their daughters.”

The reasons which drive families to practise cutting are essentially linked to social status. It’s a question of “a deeply entrenched social convention, (...) Whosoever does not submit to it incurs shame and exclusion”, according to UNICEF. This practice is supposed to increase their “daughter’s beauty, her honour, her marriageability, her social status and her chastity”.

Despite this black picture, UNICEF professes itself rather optimistic. “We know what has to be done to put an end to the pain and suffering deliberately inflicted on millions of girls each year, Rima Salah, assistant director of UNICEF explains. We understand much better why this harmful practice exists and how to stop it. There is every reason to believe that with collective global commitment, the practice can be eliminated within a single generation.”

The report is available at www.unicef.org

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