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Church's help sought to end mutilation

05 October 2012

by a staff reporter

IF THE Anglican Churches spoke out, it could bring to an end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), a Christian charity has said.

FGM is mainly practised in Africa, although it is estimated that up to 6000 girls each year are at risk of the procedure in African communities in the UK. Usually carried out on girls before puberty, it is a practice that predates Christianity and Islam. If girls fail to undergo the procedure, they risk rejection by their communities and by potential husbands.

Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, the founder of the Christian charity 28 Too Many - the number of countries practising FGM - said that the Church needed to be "the major agent of change to end this".

"The Anglican Church is on the ground, and when it speaks on health issues, it is influential. It needs to speak with one voice on this, at a leadership level and at the grass-roots," Dr Wilson said.

Her charity is working with the Department for International Development and the UN, and she has also recently met officials from the Anglican Communion.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million women worldwide are affected by FGM.

There are varying types of procedure, or degrees of mutilation, but it is usually carried out by an older woman, who does not have medical training. Many girls are believed to die from complications afterwards; others go on to become sterile, or have serious problems with obstructions when they try to give birth, leading to foetal and maternal deaths.

In at least 18 out of the 28 African countries where FGM occurs, legislation has been passed to outlaw the practice, but it still continues. It is most prevalent in Ethiopia, Egypt, Mali, and Sudan.

The former Somalian model Wasai Dirie was subjected to FGM at the age of five, and was forced into marriage at 13, before running away. She has set up the Desert Flower Foundation to campaign for change. Her life story has been turned into a German film. Ms Dirie said: "Female genital mutilation has no cultural, no traditional, and no religious aspect."

The child-development charity Compassion is working through a network of churches in Kenya to challenge local traditions. In Kenya, 49 per cent of women have been subjected to FGM. The practice is particularly prevalent in the Maasai tribe.

Compassion says that churches can reach out and challenge the practice with "sensitivity". "It often takes many, many years to see change, which is why the local church is the best vehicle for long term development," the charity says.

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