Various Issues Around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is the process of removing or cutting some or all of the external female genitalia.   The ritual is practiced as pre-emptive measure to lessen or control women’s sexuality and sexual desires so that she grow and evolve as epitome of beauty and modesty.

How the practice is conducted?

There are three types of FGM by which the practice is  carried out namely clitoridectomy, excision and  infibulations. Clitoridectomy  is the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision  is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of the skin of the vulva);infibulations  is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal which is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without clitoridectomy. Besides these three established operative procedures available to do FGM  there are  also other harmful methods to conduct the mutilation  to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes which may include pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Which are the regions in the world where female genital mutilation is most prevalent?

The practice is mainly prevalent in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. As per UNICEF estimate in 2016 around 200 million women currently  living in 30 countries have experienced  the excruciating  procedures and grappling with this problem. Though Indonesia and Malaysia have also FGM  the practice is more severe in parts of Africa and  thus morally compels the international community and the WHO to pay their attention to rooting out the evil  and liberating  the African regions  from the scourge.

Why is FGM practiced?

The prevalence of the ritual is mainly rooted in the belief that it can bring about gender inequality, control women’s sexual passions , and finally trigger the process of generating ideas about purity, modesty and beauty in the heart and mind of a woman after she goes through the process. Furthermore the women folks in most of the countries and areas where the  ritual is predominantly  carried out see it as a source of honor, and  firmly believe if the practice is disconnected or disowned  it might lead to the social ostracism of their  female offspring –their daughters and granddaughters hence it has embedded in their psyche as a  matter of  social pride  and prestige.

What are the after-effects on the health and related repercussions for those who adopt  the circumcision procedure?

The health implications in the cases of FGM are long term as well as short term.  In the short term the after effects may reveal themselves in pain, excessive bleeding, fever, infections, shock, or even death. However in the long term those who follow the practice of going through the genital mutilation may fall prey to a number of problems including recurrent infections, difficulty in urinating and menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant and  complications during childbirth.

What have been the global efforts and campaigns in the directions of addressing and putting an end to the evil?

The international agencies concerned have made a lot of serious efforts in the direction of controlling the evil practice across the globe. The campaigns have been  directed at persuading and convincing the people practicing it as sacrosanct ritual due to lack of knowledge that the act does not bring about any health, aesthetic or sexual benefit nor does it generate  any purifying effect on the psyche of the women in so far as their sexual desires are concerned .  The United Nations has been concerned so much so that it has asked all medical practitioners and members of global healthcare community to stop performing all forms of the procedures  related to  FGM. Thanks to international efforts particularly from UNO and  WHO most of the countries including UK and USA have outlawed or banned the reinfibulation after childbirth and symbolic “nicking” of the clitoral hood. In the year 2012 UN General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to eliminate the practice from the  face of the globe.

What is the legal position in India vis -a -vis the female genital mutilation ?

The practice of FGM  violates the law covering the various sections of Indian Penal code which include section 320 (causing grievous hurt) ,323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 325 (punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt). It also carries strong sense of bias and discrimination against women rooted in patriarchal mindset. As one of the petitions filed  in the Supreme Court  against the ritual reads: “The practice of ‘khatna’ or ‘FGM’ or ‘Female Circumcision’ or ‘khafd’ also amounts to causing inequality between the sexes and constitutes discrimination against women. Since it is carried out on minors, it amounts to 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 violates the rights of the child and human rights. It also violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a crime in the Unites States of America under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and now a crime in Australia and some other countries as well.

Is FGM mandatory in Islam and hence poses obstacles  to its effective prevention in India ?

The practice is illegal and banned in India but still carried out in covert manner. Besides there is nothing like FGM being mandated in Islam. On the whole, Muslims as a community do not practice the ritual of female genital mutilation. However, it has come to light that the Dawoodi Bohras  who constitute a small section of Muslim Shias practice  the ritual of FGM. The Ministry of women and child development has unequivocally asked  the Bohras to stop the practice and if the community does not stop it voluntarily the government proposes to  pass the separate  law to ban the practice.

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