Focus on Efforts to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in Africa by 2010

Friday, July 23 2010

Focus on Efforts to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in Africa by 2010

A campaign launched in Africa has announced zero tolerance for harmful practices such as FGM. Speaking in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday, Berhane Ras-Work, the president of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC) said: "Children in Africa are being mutilated alive in the name of tradition," she asserted. "We should not remain indifferent just because these acts are defined as tradition."

FGM affects around two million girls a year. The practice is ubiquitous in the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, about 98 per cent of women are estimated as having undergone FGM. It is almost as widespread in Ethiopia.

African leaders have already come under pressure to outlaw the controversial practice. The wives of at least five African presidents have also thrown their weight behind the campaign to outlaw FGM. The first ladies, from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, Djibouti and Guinea, urged action to stamp out the practice.

The EU has threatened to withdraw aid from countries which turn a blind eye or fuse to ban it. EU concern has increased because of the influx of refugees and immigrants. In 2001, the EU passed laws condemning the practice but only Britain, Norway, Sweden has outlawed it; in Austria proponents can face up to five years in prison. It is also banned in the US and Canada. Britain took a stand against FGM by passing 1985 Female Circumcision Act, but so far no one has been prosecuted under it.

In the UK, 15 000 girls are believed to be at risk, 200 operations are performed annually to reverse the procedure and FGM is officially classed as child abuse.

In Europe, concern over FGM has mounted due to the influx of refugees and immigrants.

In Britain, the growing practice has prompted the British Medical Association to issue guidelines. Meanwhile, the country's National Health Service is paying for at least 200 operations a year to reverse FGM.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on governments to impose a ban. It said governments had committed themselves to eradicate FGM under the six Millennium Development Goals that pertain to the welfare of children. According to statistics, between 100 million and 130 million women have endured FGM or cutting, often without any anaesthetic or sterilised instruments. Many suffer serious side effects as a result. Untrained women, known as excisors, often perform the brutal cutting on children, leaving them scarred for life, in implementation of a centuries-old custom. Some will use the same knife on a succession of victims, regardless of the dangers of spreading infections.

The risks of FGM include bleeding to death; developing infections like septicaemia which can kill in a matter of weeks; lifelong bladder or kidney problems; transmission of infections such as HIV/AIDS; still birth and becoming infertile.

The IAC, which is combating the practice in 26 countries, said: "Africa has the highest maternal mortality rates and the root causes for this sad reality lie squarely on social attitudes and practices that go unchallenged. We need to take up the challenge and give priority [to] and focus on the eradication of FGM, early marriage, nutritional taboos, repeated and uncontrolled pregnancies, and rape."

The IAC has said that it is women’s vulnerability and lack of economic capacity that makes it difficult for them to reject such practices. The IAC is working in 26 African countries and aims to eradicate FGM by 2010.

SOURCE: IRIN Plus News, 04/Feb/04

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