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Female Genital Mutilation

Every year, February 6 is observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  As per the WHO, globally, over 200 million girls alive today have suffered FGM in over 30 countries.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

  • FGM is the name given to procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical or cultural reasons.
  • It is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights and the health and integrity of girls and women.
  • Most girls and women who have undergone FGM live in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States, but it is also practiced in some countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
  • According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), while the exact origins of the practice remain unclear, it seems to have predated Christianity and Islam.
  • It is said that some Egyptian mummies display characteristics of FGM.
  • Significantly, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus has claimed that in the fifth century BC, the Phoenicians, the Hittites and the Ethiopians practised circumcision.

Why is Female Genital Mutilation practiced?

  • Depending on the region, there can be various reasons why FGM is performed. The UNFPA has categorised the reasons into five categories:
    1. psycho-sexual reasons (when FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed);
    2. sociological or cultural reasons (when FGM is seen as part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood and an intrinsic part of a community’s cultural heritage);
    3. hygiene and aesthetic reasons (this may be the reason for those communities that consider the external female genitalia as ugly and dirty);
    4. religious reasons (the UNFPA maintains that while FGM is not endorsed by Christianity or Islam, supposed religious doctrines may be used to justify the practice);
    5. socio-economic factors (in some communities FGM is a pre-requisite for marriage, especially in those communities where women are dependent on men economically).
  • One of the other reasons cited by the WHO include- an attempt to ensure women’s premarital virginity since FGM is believed to reduce libido,  and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts.
  • FGM may also be linked with cultural ideals of feminity and modesty.

Economic cost of FGM

  • Beyond the immense psychological trauma it entails, FGM imposes large financial costs and loss of life.
  • In 2018, a study on FGM in India said that the practice was up to 75 per cent across the Bohra Muslim community.
  • The economic costs of treating health complications arising out of FGM amount to roughly $1.4 billion for 2018 for 27 countries where FGM is performed.
  • If the prevalence remains the same, the amount is expected to rise up to $2.3 billion by 2047.

FGM in India

Background
  • According to the above study, the reasons for FGM referred to as Khafd in India include continuing an old traditional practice, adhering to religious edicts, controlling women’s sexuality and abiding by the rules stated by the religious clergy of their community.
     
  • It also states that the issue first noticed in India because of two international legal cases on FGM against practising Bohras in Australia and the US.
    Supreme Court view
The Supreme Court in 2018 expressed concern over the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) prevalent in the Bohra Muslim community (who are Shia Muslims), saying it compromises and violates the bodily integrity and privacy of a woman in the name of religion.
  • The Chief Justice of India (CJI) observed that the practice will fall under POCSO Act and that these petitions have been filed by women. And if they do not want it, then it cannot be imposed.
  • The practice violates various fundamental rights of the girl child and moreover, such kind of genital mutilation has serious repercussions on their health (WHO).
  • The countries like the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia and around 27 African countries have already banned this practice.
  • According to the petition, FGM violates both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to both of which India is a signatory.
  • While the trust belonging to women of Bohra community, opposed the petitions and said that FGM was in vogue among Dawoodi Bohra women since centuries, and it would be protected under Articles 25 and 26 of Constitution and demanded that the matter is referred to a Constitution bench.
     

Government view

  • The practice violated various fundamental rights of the girl child and moreover, such kind of genital mutilation has serious repercussions on their health.
 
Current Status in India
  • There is no law in India banning FGM or Khatna.

International Practice

  • Countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and around 27 African countries have banned this practice.
  • It violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • It is a crime in the United States of America under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

Conclusion

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. The practice involves removing and injuring healthy and normal female genital tissue, interfering with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. It can lead to immediate health risks, as well as a variety of long-term complications affecting women’s physical, mental and sexual health and well-being throughout the life-course.   

All forms of FGM are associated with increased health risk in the short- and long-term. FGM is a harmful practice and is unacceptable from a human rights as well as a public health perspective, regardless of who performs it. Some health care providers perform FGM (medicalization), but WHO is opposed to all forms of FGM and strongly urges health care providers to not carry out FGM even when their patient or their patient’s family requests it. So the practice should be banned in all nations to safeguard the interest of one of the important section of our society.

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