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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Catalan police in crusade against cultural ritual

• 12 Feb 2009 •

By Gabrielle Devon

THANKS to members of Cataluña’s regional police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, during 2008, 104 girls living in the region were spared the ordeal of going through the suffering caused by genital mutilation, a practice carried out mainly in African and Asian countries.

They have managed to prevent 18 so far this year.

Since the year 2000, Mossos d’Esquadra have contacted the families of girls whom they consider may be at risk of undergoing this procedure, considering their country of origin and the fact that they may not have abandoned this barbaric custom.

Officers inform them of     the inherent dangers the procedure involves, and try to dissuade them from returning to their country of origin for the ritual to be performed or from having it carried out here by clandestine witch-doctors operating in Spain.

The parents are also informed that in Spain, this practice is considered a  crime which will incur the full force of the law.

According to statistics released by the regional government, in Cataluña alone, there are more than 13,000 girls at risk and 4,846 of them are under the age of 19.

Their objective to bring an end to female genital mutilation is unique in Europe and has prevented almost 100 cases per year since it began.

Last year, some 300 officers      participated in a special course to learn more about female genital mutilation and recently a delegation travelled to the Gambia to provide information on site to families there, even managing to get one community to promise not to carry out any more of the rituals.

Many of the families living in Spain apparently do not want their daughters to undergo the procedure, but upon returning to their countries of origin feel pressured to conform by the society that exists there. Some communities believe that it is beneficial for a       woman’s health, maintaining cleanliness as there are no sexual secretions. Others believe that if a child touches its mother’s clitoris while being born, it will die. However, it is mainly used to prevent young girls from having sexual urges and to maintain their virginity until marriage, something which guarantees they will be accepted by their future husband.

Women allow the procedure as they believe it will bring pleasure to their partners and guarantee them a successful marriage.

The origin of female genital mutilation is unknown and although it is carried out in many Moslem countries, it is not related to Islam or any other known religion.

There are several types of female genital mutilation, but all procedures involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.

In some cases, there is a narrowing of the vaginal orifice as well as cutting of the clitoris, labia minora and/or labia majora, which are then held together using thorns or stitches.

Reports suggest that the girl’s legs are tied together for two to six weeks, to prevent her from moving and to allow healing. This can be reversed to allow sexual intercourse    or when undergoing labour, which becomes extremely difficult and painful, and can result in tearing and death of the child if the birth canal is not opened sufficiently.

Surprisingly, a study has revealed that the majority of women who have been subjected to this extreme sexual mutilation claim to experience sexual desire, pleasure and orgasm, in spite of their being culturally bound to hide such feelings.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) declared February 6 as ‘International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation’, and Egypt has passed a law banning the practice. Sheikh Ali Gomaa stated: “The traditional form of excision is a practice totally banned       by Islam because of the compelling evidence of the extensive damage it causes to women’s bodies and minds.