Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the term for "all procedures involving the cutting or removal of external female genitalia for cultural or other non therapeutic reasons" (WHO 2010).
The different types of female genital mutilation known to be practised are as follows:
There is a wide range of complications associated with FGM, and these vary depending on the type of FGM. They can include the following:
Bleeding, infection, pain, shock, tetanus and damage to other genital areas.
Urinary infections, cysts, fistulas, infertility, painful menstruation, abscesses, and pelvic infections.
Difficulties with internal examinations during pregnancy and labour, prolonged labour, difficulties with delivery, bleeding at delivery and obstructed delivery which can lead to death of the baby.
Fear and pain associated with sexual intercourse, difficulty or inability to have sexual intercourse, and decreased sexual pleasure and frigidity.
In addition, some women may experience negative psychological effects such as anxiety, fear, lack of trust and difficulty with body image.
FGM is deeply rooted in a complex social and economic framework. It is seen as a very beneficial custom and is supported by a wide range of beliefs, customs, values and sociological pressures. Some of the main reasons include:
Reduction or elimination of the outer genital organs is believed to attenuate sexual desire in a girl/woman, maintain her chastity and virginity before marriage, maintain fidelity during marriage, and increase male sexual pleasure.
FGM is commonly linked with identification with the cultural heritage, initiation of girls into womanhood, social integration, the maintenance of social cohesion, and family honour.
The external female genitalia are considered by many groups to be dirty and unsightly and are removed to promote hygiene and provide aesthetic appeal.
FGM is believed to promote fertility, the child's good health and child survival. It is also commonly believed that the clitoris is dangerous and unless removed it will poison a child at birth or grow long and dangle down.
FGM is practised by Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Coptics and animists. It has frequently been carried out by some Muslim communities in the genuine belief that it is demanded by the Islamic faith, however, the practice of FGM predates Islam and there is no substantive evidence that it is an Islamic religious requirement.
WHO estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to one of the first three types of female genital mutilation. There are an estimated 3 million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.
The earliest record of FGM was made by Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian who reported excision on Egyptian girls in 25BC. However, it is believed that FGM was occurring some centuries before this, and was spread by dominant tribes and civilizations as a result of tribal, ethnic, and cultural allegiances.
FGM is most commonly performed by midwives, birth attendants and traditional circumcisors. The procedure is carried out using crude tools and instruments such as razors, knives and scissors. Anaesthetics or antiseptics are not generally used, however in urban areas FGM is being performed more frequently in hospitals by trained doctors and midwives.
The age at which FGM is performed varies widely, depending on ethnic group and geographical location. Among some groups FGM is performed as early as infancy, in other groups it doesn't occur until adolescence, or occasionally in adulthood. The most common age for infibulation is between four and eight years.
FGM is practised by followers of many different religions: Muslims, Catholics, animists, and Christian Coptics. It is practised by some Muslim communities in the belief that it is demanded by the Islamic faith. However, the practice of FGM predates Islam and there is not any substantial evidence in the Koran, or any of the religious texts supporting FGM as a religious requirement.
Sixteen African countries have enacted laws criminalizing FGM including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania, and Togo. The penalties for performing FGM range from a minimum of six months to a maximum of life imprisonment.
Eleven countries that receive immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced have passed laws criminalizing FGM. These include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States. France has relied on existing criminal legislation to prosecute both practitioners of FGM and parents procuring the service for their daughters.
There is no documented evidence that FGM is practiced in New Zealand. However, New Zealand has a growing number of refugees and migrants from countries that practice FGM, and many of these women have already undergone FGM.
In January 1996 the Government made the practice of FGM illegal under an amendment to The Crimes Act (section 204A) 1961. The Act states that it is illegal law to perform "any medical or surgical procedure or mutilation of the vagina or clitoris of any person" for reasons of "culture, religion, custom or practice."
This means it is against the law to:
It is against the law to perform FGM even if the woman or girl wants it to be done.
FGM is illegal because the New Zealand Government believes that it is harmful to the health of women and girls. New Zealand is also a signatory to the following International Instruments and conventions that encourage and oblige us to action against FGM:
If someone performs FGM, they are breaking the law and may be imprisoned for up to seven years. The punishment occurs whether the person performs the procedure, helps, or gets someone else to perform FGM.