Female Genital Mutilation

The Independent today carries a story about a police crackdown on people taking girls from the UK to other countries for the purposes of female genital mutilation.

The paper reports that various government departments believe that up to 20,000 girls are at risk in the UK of being flown out of the country to undergo this agonising procedure by tribal elders in foreign countries.

The process involves most of the outer genitals being removed and stitched up again. This is an ancient cultural tradition and police want to stamp it out.

The paper reports:

Moves to tackle the culturally sensitive issue will come as ministers from several government departments struggle to stamp out the ancient tribal tradition amid evidence that thousands of British girls are at risk from a ritual that is supposed to mark their transition into womanhood.

Hospitals in the UK are reporting an increase in the numbers of women who they see who have signs of this procedure having been carried out on them. It can often lead to many problems including difficulties in the ability to give birth naturally.

The newspaper continues:

Children as young as five are held down and cut, sometimes with razor blades or broken glass, in a ritual driven by a range of cultural demands, including a desire to demonstrate a girl’s virginity on her wedding night. The practice, which survives mainly in 28 countries in East and West Africa, has been targeted as a fundamental human rights violation in recent years by the United Nations and individual states, including the UK.

The United Kingdom has passed two laws in the last 23 banning this procedure. The World Health organisation estimates that up to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to the procedure and up to three million undergo the procedure every year (most of whom are under 15)

Since the law changed again in 2003 not one person has been prosecuted for either carrying out this act or aiding and abetting it.

The newspaper carries the story of one woman who was mutilated at the age of five. The newspaper quotes her as saying:

When it happened I was five, and I didn’t even know this practice existed. I was taken off with my cousins and other girls that I knew – we thought that we were going to a party. I was reassured because so many people I knew were there. Then the atmosphere changed, and the adult women became more aggressive. They took one of the girls away, and I heard her scream – I was the 20th girl to be taken, so I heard that scream over and over again. I heard them saying ‘No, don’t cut me’, but I didn’t know what they were cutting.

Then it was my turn. I didn’t know what was happening, but it hurt so much I thought that I was going to die. They must have used a knife but I couldn’t see it. It felt like having all of your nails ripped off at the same moment. There was no anaesthetic. Physically, it took a long time for me to heal. Every day when I have a shower I am reminded of the fact that I have been mutilated.

This cultural practice is absolutely abhorrent and it angers me to think that to date the UK authorities have done nothing other than pass a couple of laws banning the practice to actively protect young girls and women in this country from being subjected to this practice both inside and outside of the UK.

Hopefully this pro-active stance will yield some results and people will be prosecuted to demonstrate to those who commit this act that it is abhorrent, repugnant and that the UK authorities will not stand for such assaults taking place.