140 million women and children worldwide have suffered female genital cutting*

By 1997 the whole of Australia had outlawed female circumcision making it illegal 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”.

However with the growing number of people arriving from countries such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East and combined religious and cultural traditions, there has been a rise in the number of illegal female genital cutting.

“This is child abuse, it doesn’t matter whether it is cultural or not, it is against the law and there is one law for all Australians,” Pru Goward, former Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Commissioner said.

“There is anecdotal evidence that it is occurring… and when I said to them (doctors) why aren’t they reporting them it was because they feel it wouldn’t stand up in court. Doctors are anxious about taking on the family because the family will often just say the ‘young girl slipped on some glass'” she said.

Even though in Australia this practice is considered by many to be a form of genital mutilation, The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) are willing to discuss the possibility of introducing “ritual nicks”.

In June the RANZCOG will discuss this matter at their Women’s Health meeting.

RANZCOG secretary Gino Pecoraro said: “If a nick could meet the cultural needs of a particular woman, then it might save her from going through what can really be drastic surgery. But we need to make sure we do not legitimise the ritualistic maiming of children.”

“It can progress to an extreme form that actually removes the clitoris and the labia and sews the opening of the vagina closed,” Dr Peccararo said.

“No-one is condoning the practice. No-one is trying to legitimise the practice. They are trying to look at a way to minimise the harm,” he said.

The issue of female cutting has polarized the community; some in the medical world feel that if a minor form of circumcism were legally allowed then it would protect girls from being subjected to the procedure by people without a formal medical background and in unsanitary conditions.

Others like Ms Goward firmly believe that ‘female nicking’ of any kind is female mutilation and abuse and under no circumstances should be allowed in any form, no matter how ‘mild’.

Ms Goward said “the first thing that should happen is that the Federal Government, which is after all responsible for our immigration program, launches a huge public education campaign particularly in those communities and particularly when it is processing people for migration to Australia”.

“If you don’t start education, if you don’t start prosecuting – because we all know anecdotally that these children are turning up in hospitals with ruptured bladders and urethra – that this will continue,” she said.

“But the answer is not to allow a modified form of it if you haven’t tried stopping it by public education and awareness and prosecution.”

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission also agreed “I disagree with the suggestion by the RANZCOG that we should, for any reason, entertain a practice of “ritual nicks” in a sterile environment.

“In my opinion female genital mutilation or female circumcision, whatever you want to call it, is violence against women, often against children and young women.”

Even within the RANZCOG there is disagreement with Digby Ngan Kee, of Palmerston North, Vice President of RANZCOG and a member of it’s women’s health committee saying that Dr Pecoraro’s comments were not the official position of the college.  He added “We remain opposed to female genital mutilation”.

The RANZCOG President, Dr Ted Weaver has confirmed “The College is not considering any support for this procedure on baby girls in Australia, and the assumption that the College is going to change its position on female genital mutilation is wrong. The College remains opposed to all forms of female genital mutilation”.

* according to the World Health Organisation.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: ABC News. The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists