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What Is FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)? Why Culture Should Not Be A Defence For Child Abuse

Just a picture being taken to a remote area, where inside a dark decrepit building or a hut you are being tacked down on the floor without having a single iota of knowledge of what is going to happen next and why. All you can hear is the sound of metal, probably a blade or knife being heated and your underwear goes off without your consent.

You get confused and struggle to get up but all your efforts go to waste. What happens next is that same hot blade and knife slices your clitoris inch by inch and all you can do is scream and cry in pain. The next thing you know is that a piece of flesh is removed from your body and you are left on the floor bleeding.

Now imagine this mutilation happening to 200 million girls and women across 31 countries where culture is used as a defence for female child abuse in order to control their sexuality. The sad truth this inhuman practice is performed by women to other women.

According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation in the nations where the practice is concentrated. The practice is still prevalent in Africa (western, eastern and northeastern regions), a few nations in Asia and the Middle East and also in certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.

What Is FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a traditional harmful practice that involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has absolutely no health benefits for girls and women.

A study published in Reproductive Health Journal revealed that circumcision is not associated with positive sexual behavioural outcomes including delay in sexual debut, virginity and marital fidelity, although there exists some perception behind increasing FGM in Nigeria including prevention of premarital sex and ensuring marital fidelity.

The World Health Organisation has classified FGM into four different types.

  • Type I - Clitoridectomy: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and/or the prepuce (the clitoral hood or fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type II - Excision: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without excision of the outer labia (the labia are the 'lips' that surround the vagina).
  • Type III - Infibulation: This is the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without the removal of the clitoris.
  • Type IV - Other: It includes other harmful procedures performed to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising (burning) the genital area.

If you believe that FGM is only happening in tribal communities in Africa and not in India, then bite a bullet.

Unfortunately, there are many communities that still believe that for a girl to be accepted into society and make her eligible for marriage, FGM has to be performed and there is a strong belief that it will protect their future.

Dawoodi Bohras are members of the Muslim community's Shia sect which accounts for more than 2 million of India's population. To the present day, people from this community get involved in this cruel practice of female genital cutting and performing type I and type IV procedures mainly. It is the untrained midwives who scar young women for their entire lives and call it 'Khatna'. It can primarily be seen in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.

Data suggests that every day 6-7 girls or women get circumcised or mutilated before they attain puberty due to this heinous practice. The belief that is embedded in this illegal practice is that cutting the clitoral head as immoral lump of flesh or 'haraam ki boti' will maintain the 'religious purity' of the female body, by regulating and moderating sexual desires.

FGM is against the "UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which is India is a signatory. During its 41st annual Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights at the UNHRC session, Costa Rica urged India to take necessary steps to curb this heinous practice in the nation.

Currently, India has no law that bans the practice of FGM in this nation. Also, you will be surprised and shocked to know that there are circumcism clinics and hospitals in India that promise to offer 'safe painless non-invasive surgery'.

An activist Sunita Tiwari raised the issue of FGM in a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court in 2017. The petition mentioned how this practice is carried out illegally on minor girls which is a "serious violation of the rights of children as even minors have a right of security of person, right to privacy, bodily integrity and the freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment". It also contends that this practice is violative of women's constitutionally guaranteed right to equality (Article 14), protection against gender-based discrimination (Article 15), right to life, bodily integrity and privacy (Article 21). Apart from that she also argued that "When men are oppressed, it's a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it's tradition."

Also, a Delhi-based publisher, Masooma Ranalvi, who is a victim of FGM herself, has started a petition 'End Female Genital Mutilation' along with 17 other women in the hope to save girls and women from being cut.

What Are The Health Consequences Of FGM?

WHO has listed several health consequences of FGM and it can be fatal as death. Other complications include cysts and neuromas, severe pain and shock, broken limbs from being held down, pregnancy and childbirth, difficulties in menstruation, urine retention, depression and post-natal depression, complications in childbirth, increased risk of HIV and aids, injury to adjacent tissues, infertility, sexual dysfunction, uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections, trauma and flashbacks, psychosexual problems and increased risk of fistula.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes a target under Goal 5 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and FGM/C, by the year 2030, mentions National Health Portal (NHS).

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