Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 17th 2013 Contents A41
Monday, June 17, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Now in her 50s, Madina
Bocoum Daff still cannot get over
the agony and shame of her
Madina---barely into adoles-
cence---was subjected to one of
the most severe forms of female
genital mutilation (FGM)---a prac-
tice long carried out in many
She was too young to under-
stand what was happening to her.
Like all other young girls in her
ethnic Fulani community in Mali,
she was required to go through the
rite of passage before the onset of
The practice involves "cutting"
a girl's vagina to create a seal that
narrows the opening, just wide
enough to allow the passing of
urine and menstrual blood. Infibu-
lated girls often have their legs
bound together for up to four
weeks to allow the freshly fused
tissue to heal.
"All I know is that I had severe
problems immediately after being
excised. I remember going through
a very agonising cycle of puberty.
I remained covered in pain and
humiliation," says Madina.
On the International Day of the
African Child, the suffering caused
by female genital mutilation is
under the spotlight with the con-
troversial practice widely con-
demned by rights and health
organisations. According to the
World Health Organisation , there
are about 140 million girls and women
around the world currently living with
the consequences of the practice. The
majority of these females are in Africa,
where it is routinely done in 28 coun-
An estimated 101 million girls 10
years old and above have undergone
varying forms of genital mutilation in
Africa. A study by child rights and
development organisation Plan Inter-
national in Mali in 2010 found more
than half of all fathers and one-third
of mothers wanted their girls excised.
"I don't see any harm from this prac-
tice. It has been our tradition for cen-
turies," Abdoul, a father of two young
girls, told researchers.
For families it is a seal of guarantee
that secures girls against any sexual
encounter prior to marriage, and pro-
tects the family honour.
For infibulated girls, mutilation does
not end with the childhood operation.
On the day of their wedding, brides
undergo another painful surgery to
reverse it. This involves cutting open
the connecting tissue and restoring the
vaginal opening to enable sexual inter-
course with their husbands.
"I cannot even explain the feeling of
terror that runs through infibulated
girls' minds thinking of marriage," says
In most cases cutting is done by a
traditional practitioner without any
anaesthesia and little care for hygiene.
Razors, knives or scissors are used and
they are rarely sterilised. The surgery
takes place wherever it is convenient---
from out in the open to a bathroom
"It is only after completing this pro-
cedure an excised bride is considered
free.' She usually has her first sexual
experience the very same night after
cutting," says Madina.
Cutting tools on display in a room
in Lunsar, Sierra Leone [Grace Har-
In most places where it is practised,
FGM is considered an essential part of
raising a girl and preparing her for
womanhood and marriage.
With its direct link to beliefs about
premarital virginity and marital fidelity,
the social pressure to adhere to the
practice is intense.
Thousands of girls every year suffer
health complications including severe
vaginal pain, shock, bleeding and infec-
tion. Life-long consequences include
infertility, childbirth complications and
Recently 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea
died in a clinic in Egypt when a doctor
was performing the procedure.
The girl's death has caused an uproar
in the country where FGM is legally
banned but still widely practised, affect-
ing more than two-thirds of women
From verbal threats and physical
force, all kinds of methods are used to
coerce unwilling girls into submission.
"I will never forget that day. My
mother woke me up very early in the
morning and told me firmly to get
ready for circumcision," says 13-year-
old Ahlam, her surname withheld to
protect her identity.
"Immediately an old woman entered
the room and got a razor out of her
bag. My mother held my arms very
tight so that I could not move. The
woman used her razor to circumcise
me. I cried loudly but nobody listened,
the pain was unbearable. After all was
done, my mom paid her some money
and she left. A few hours later, I started
In countries such as Djibouti, Sierra
Leone, Mali, Somalia and Guinea the
practice is so rife that almost nine out
of 10 girls undergo genital mutilation.
Dreading the day
Eleven-year-old Mariama is dreading
the day she will have to go through her
excision ritual. Her family fled the vio-
lence in northern Mali and moved to
the capital Bamako a few months ago.
As if the stress of displacement is
not enough, Mariama says she is con-
sumed by thoughts of the pain that
awaits her. "My friend's sister from our
neighbourhood died after her excision.
I am very worried what will happen to
me," she says.
Religious leaders take varying posi-
tions on the issue, with some promoting
it and others supporting its elimina-
El Sheikh Saad is the sheikh of his
village mosque in Egypt's Assiut
province. A father of a seven-year-old
girl, Sheikh Saad was not initially
against female genital mutilation until
he became informed about its health
dangers, and after consulting religious
"I was not convinced about the
harms of this tradition," he says. "I
brought the matter up before the local
religious committee and they told me
clearly that there was no religious basis
of the practice."
In many instances, female circum-
cision is performed on extremely young
girls. In rural areas in Mali, for example,
it is being done to girls under five. In
some urban areas, the surgery is even
conducted on new-born girls before
they are 40 days old.
The practice violates a number of
fundamental rights outlined under
international protocols. But despite
that, only 19 of the 28 countries that
practice FGM in Africa have national
laws prohibiting it. And even where
laws exist, prosecutions are rare.
Despite many African countries sign-
ing up to international legal frameworks
to protect children, traditional laws
governing customary practices often
override such treaties.
After suffering through female genital
mutilation herself, Madina now works
with Plan International to eliminate it
from her country, Mali. She says
progress is being made.
"Through community awareness and
education, 44 villages in areas where
we work have declared themselves
FGM-free," Madina says.
"Besides parents and elders, engaging
with children and young people is a
key part of our approach. Girls and
boys are not only rights holders them-
selves, but also future parents who will
play a crucial role in ending this gen-
Fighting female genital mutilation in Africa
Girls from Koumonin Village, the first in Guinea to ban female genital
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