Female circumcision is common among Africans as a custom rather than as a matter of choice. It is often seen as a way of curbing sexual waywardness in the females while some clans even consider it as a symbol of maturity or as a method of initiating teenage girls into adulthood.
As tradition goes the circumcision is usually done with knives, blades and scissors which are often unsterilized. In addition the area of excision is often packed with dirty rags to impede bleeding. Several unconfirmed cases of young girls bleeding to death have been reported while many others get infected.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) female circumcision increases the risk of complications during childbirth and infant mortality with women who have undergone the procedure more likely to need Caesareans. Death rate among their babies was also about 50 per cent higher.
The study involved 30,000 African women and is the first of its kind to look into the long-term health consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). The WHO described FGM as a form of "torture" that must be stamped out, even if performed by trained medical personnel.
TYPES OF FGM Type one - where the clitoris is removed. Type two - where the clitoris and surrounding labia are removed. Type three - where the clitoris and labia are removed. "By medicalising it, we will be endorsing this practice, this violation of a child's body and a basic human right of an individual and I think that's the worst thing we can possibly do," Joy Phumaphi, WHO Assistant Director-General for family and community health, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
According to the report, mutilated women were 31% more likely to have a caesarean delivery, had a 66 per cent higher chance of having a baby that required resuscitation and 55 per cent more likely to have a child who died before or after birth. 'As a result of this study we have, for the first time, evidence that deliveries among women who have been subjected to FGM are significantly more likely to be complicated and dangerous,' Ms Phumaphi said.
The results of the study are especially important to protect communities in the future. While many African countries have passed laws against FGM, the WHO says they are not being properly enforced. FGM is practised in 28 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. One hundred million women worldwide have undergone the procedure, which happens to three million girls under 10 every year. It is carried out by both Christian and Muslim communities.
According to community officer, Enshrah Ahmed. 'The whole thing is that it's surrounded in secrecy, so it's very difficult to catch people.' Ms Ahmed said women's sexuality was not readily discussed in the affected communities and so the problem seldom addressed. This had made it very difficult to know how many girls had been circumcised, let alone who was to blame, she said.
The study has shown the pressing need to raise awareness about the health and legal issues about female genital mutilation among the communities practicing it. 'All medical personnel must be trained in cultural sensitivity and how to meet the needs of women who have undergone female genital mutilation.'
Dr Toubia is founder and president of Research, Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women (Rainbo) - an international organization that promotes and protects all aspects of women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in Africa. Rainbo estimates that, globally, at least two million girls are at risk of genital mutilation each year - approximately 6,000 a day.