Countries that have prohibited female genital mutilation (FGM) should permit less invasive practices such as minimal nicks to girls’ genitalia as a compromise, two U.S gynecologists stated on Monday.
But the proposal was strongly criticized by campaigners against FGM, saying it would damage global efforts to eliminate the internationally condemned ritual.
According to U.N. estimates, at least 200 million females have been subjected to FGM in more than 30 countries. In the ancient practice, the girl’s external genitalia will be removed partially or totally. In certain cases, the vaginal opening is also sewn up. But less invasive rituals such as nicking or pricking the clitoris are also practiced in some communities.
The gynecologists, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argued that permitting more small practice could allow communities to uphold their cultural and religious customs while protecting girls from more dangerous mutilation.
In some communities, FGM is a prerequisite for marriage. Many also consider it a religious obligation even though it is not mentioned in the Bible or Koran. In fact, FGM can result in a lot of both physical and psychological problems.
Gynecologists Allan Jacobs and Kavita Shah Arora said procedures that slightly changed the appearance of a girl’s genitalia without harming them were comparable to male circumcision or cosmetic surgeries in many Western countries like labiaplasty.
FGM is practiced in an area of African countries, and by diaspora communities living in the West. Global attempts to proscribe FGM by law had failed possibly because of driving the practice underground.
The gynecologists suggested that the phrase “female genital mutilation” (FGM) should be changed to the less emotive one: “female genital alteration” (FGA) to avoid demonizing important religious practices.
Experts on medical ethics said that procedures to modify girls’ genitals could not be compared to male circumcision as they are designed to control women and attenuate their sexual desire. They also forecasted that legalizing more minimal procedures would result in a host of legal, medical and regulatory problems.
Global campaigners against FGM suggested that doctors should challenge harmful social norms, and not tolerate them.
According to Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, head of global advocacy at the charity FORWARD which campaigns against FGM, any form of FGM is violating a child’s rights. He added that the practice is different to male circumcision. As with male circumcision, there is no intention to reduce sexual desire, control sexuality or enforce chastity.
Rights group Equality Now stated that one of the biggest threats to FGM’s eradication was its “medicalization”. It also said FGM prevalence rates had decreased remarkably in many countries and that properly implemented laws had been supported in countries like Kenya.