Mutilation is a general term describing severe injure, cutting of body tissues or disfiguration with no intention of killing. The act of circumcision is recommended for male children, but this practice on a girl child is dangerous and considered as a human right violation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is predominantly practiced in Africa and Middle-east due to cultural, social and religious beliefs, but also in some communities in Australia, Eastern Europe and the Americas. What renders this practice dangerous is merely the conditions in which they are carried out, and the effects on the lives of women, both physically, psychologically and socially. About 120-140 million girl-children and women undergo the operation every year, and this often takes place in remote rural areas using instruments such as razor blades, knifes, broken bottles, more to that, carried out by untrained midwives and in poor hygienic conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized female genital mutilation into 4 different types which are:
Type I, also called Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
Type II, also called excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue that is removed varies widely from community to community.
Type III, also called Infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora. This can take place with or without removal of the clitoris.
Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterization.
All of these are dangerous, but infibulation is known to be the most severe because the excision is followed by a narrowing of the vaginal opening to allow restricted flow of urine and menstrual blood. Added to this, the mutilated women legs are bound for almost a month to allow the formation of scars on the genital area.
FGM has short term and long-term consequences on the health of these young girls and women. The immediate health risk include; severe pain, shock, infections, excessive bleeding, which may eventually lead to death. The long-term on the other hand include; urinary and menstrual problems, infertility, reproductive tract infections, increased risk of cervical cancer and HIV transmission, childbirth and obstetric complications. But these physical consequences come along with psychological and social distress such as fear of sexual intercourse, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.
The reasons behind this practice varies depending on the communities in which they are carried out, but the major motivation is the belief to ensure sexual restraint, maturity and respectability amongst others. In Africa, statistics have shown that Somalia is the country with the highest prevalence of FGM with almost 97% of women under the age of 15 undergoing this.
The gravity of this practice reinforces that it is a violation of basic human rights, consequently, a number of documents, protocols and advocacy tools emphasize on this. Today, more than 45 countries have enacted laws to abide this practice, and penalties go from 6 months minimum to life prison maximum, including monetary fines.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 has 5 different articles which together form a basis to condemn the practice of FGM, as every human being is entitled to physical and psychological bodily integrity. The 1978 Convention on the Elimination on all forms of discrimination against women in art. 2f requires state parties “to take all appropriate measures to modify or abolish customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women. The protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of women in Africa clearly states in Art. 5 under the elimination of harmful practices that “State parties shall prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices which negatively affects the human rights of women and which are contrary to recognized international standards”, and goes further in art. 5b. by saying state parties shall “take necessary legislative measures to eliminate such practices including all forms of female genital mutilation, scarification, medicalization and para-medicalization of female genital mutilation and all other practices in order to eradicate them”.
We equally have the 1994 Cairo Declaration on Population and Development, 1995 Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women, the 1998 Addis Ababa declaration on Violence against women, the 2003 Maputo Protocol all of which have adopted decrees aimed at abolishing Female Genital Mutilation and highlighted it as a basic human rights violation and lifelong health risk to a women.
Despite the diversity of reasons for the practicing of FGM and health complications that result from it, FGM goes beyond these as far as human rights are concerned. Not surprisingly, it has been considered as one of the most significant human rights violation against young girls and woman. Therefore, efforts to address FGM are part of a long-term process aimed at ensuring greater government involvement
1. Rogo KO, Subayi T (2006) Female Genital Mutilation a Matter of Human Rights; An Advocate’s Guide to Action. (2 Ed), Center for Reproductive Rights, New York, USA.
2. World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation, 2001.
3. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change. New York, UNICEF, 2013.
4. Female Genital Mutilation: A Joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA Statement. WHO, 1997.