THOUSANDS of young girls in Spain could be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation also known as circumcision without an anaesthetic when they reach puberty, disturbing figures show.
Around five million girls worldwide, aged between toddlerhood and around 18 years old suffer this potentially deadly mutilation every year.
But around 10,000 in Spain are also at risk, having been born into families from one of the 27 countries around the globe – most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly include Sénégal, Mali and Nigeria – where this barbaric practice is not against the law.
It consists of removing all outer parts of the girl’s genitals and stitching them up, and is rarely carried out using any form of sedation.
Often, it takes place in the desert with sharp instruments such as a broken shard of glass or a stone.
Since age commands respect in many African countries, parents often find themselves overriden by grandparents or elderly women inn their villages if they try to refuse to put their daughters through the process.
Although sometimes immigrants in Spain carry out the process – which is said to make a woman ‘cleaner’ and is a sign that she is a virgin when she is married – others go back to their countries of origin for the ‘operation’.
Rosa Negre, sub-inspector of the Mossos d’Esquadra, says Catalunya has been working hard to raise awareness among African families of the extreme mental and physical risks involved.
She makes families who intend to make a return trip to Africa sign an undertaking that they will not have their daughters circumcised.
This means they can allege illegality to justify their refusal to put their daughters through it, given that a father who had his eight-month-old daughter circumcised on a trip to the Gambia has been put in prison for six years.
Casilda Velasco, midwife, university lecturer and volunteer for Medicus Mundi Andalucía, a charity which provides medical care in third world countries, said the hardest part is convincing women to take a stand and not to be swayed by the orders of older members of their community.
And Bombo N’dir, Senegalese activist and vice-president of the female genital mutilation awareness team (EQUIS), who has lived in Spain for 13 years, says younger women are starting to come around to the idea that the practice is barbaric and can lead to infections, psychological hang-ups and a total loss of any form of sex life, but that it is far harder to convince men.
“They know nothing about women, and it means broaching subjects that are socially taboo in many African countries,” she states.
N’dir believes that with enough education, eventually the practise will be outlawed in every country in the world.
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