Doctors consider 'less severe' female circumcision

Started by slayton, May 28, 2010, 11:54 AM

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Doctors consider 'less severe' female circumcision
By Timothy McDonald
Fri May 28, 2010 11:27am AEST

The body representing Australia's obstetricians and gynaecologists is considering whether to support a less extreme version of female circumcision known as a ritual nick.

Female circumcision has been illegal in Australia since the 1990s but doctors are worried that it is being done anyway, in unsafe conditions, by immigrants who take their daughters back to their home country.

The secretary of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Gino Peccararo, says by offering the alternative, some women may be spared the agony of being mutilated overseas.

In medical circles the procedure is called ritual genital cutting or female circumcision. To its opponents, it is female genital mutilation.

Dr Peccararo says at its worst the procedure can be very nasty.

"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.

Sometimes these procedures are performed by people without proper medical training in unsanitary conditions.

Dr Peccararo says it may well be better for the girls involved if the parents had a far less severe but culturally acceptable alternative.

But he says the move is not about legitimising female circumcision.

"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.

"My understanding is that in America there are going to look to see if they can provide that as an alternative to the more severe procedure with the idea, I think, of minimising the harm."

The American Association of Paediatrics is also considering a similar proposal, saying that ritual nicks are not harmful and require far less extensive cutting than male circumcision.

Dr Peccararo says the issue needs to be discussed with cultural leaders from African nations but ultimately it would require changes to the existing law in Australia.

Former Commonwealth sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward says doctors are overreacting.

"This country has had it outlawed for 15 years for the very obvious reason that this is a gross invasion of women's rights and a terrible way to treat women," 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."

Ms Goward says it needs to be made clear that female circumcision is an unacceptable and unlawful practice in Australia that will result in a jail sentence.

"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."

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