Tradition and Rights: Female genital cutting in West Africa

[LONDON, 30 October 2006] - A new Plan report on female genital cutting in West Africa explores the traditional custom that can lead to significant health problems relating to child birth. The Tradition and Rights: Female genital cutting in West Africa report reveals that many girls are being trained to perform female genital cutting in rural communities in West Africa.

The research conducted over a six-month period in townships in Guinea, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone suggests that some villagers believe the practice of genital excision can help boost fertility, sexual intercourse and childbirth.

“This study shows that some traditional practices are immensely harmful to children and that gender plays a big part in this – girls and young women are often the most vulnerable,” says Paul Nolan, Plan’ s global child protection manager. The report reveals that it is common for young girls to demand to have their genitalia excised out of fear of ‘being mocked and ridiculed’ by their peers. Some even demand to be excised when their communities have chosen to abandon the practice.

A World Health Organisation study published in June found that 21,000 women who had gone through the removal of part or all of their external genitalia in West Africa had significantly increased the risk of infant death and severe blood loss during child birth.

Despite this fact, Plan researchers encountered communities who defended the practice because of traditional beliefs, including the view that the clitoris is a dangerous organ that can harm an infant during childbirth.

Plan believes that putting an end to the practice of female genital cutting could be made easier if governments took a clear position against the practice and worked with groups fighting to end the practice at a community level.

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