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FGM on decline in Sudan as attitudes shift: UNICEF

February 12, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Changing attitudes in Sudan surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM) is helping to reduce the prevalence of the practice, UNICEF says.

Nearly nine out of 10 Sudanese women aged 15 to 49 have undergone some form of FGM, UNICEF says (ST)

According to the agency, more than 50 per cent of Sudanese women believe the practice should be discontinued amid growing awareness about its health dangers.

UNICEF child protection specialist Abdelraouf Elsiddig Ahmed said a comparison of the 2006 and 2010 Sudanese Household Surveys shows a notable decrease in the practice of cutting.

“For instance, in the 5 to 9 age bracket, 34.5 per cent had been cut in 2010, compared to 41 per cent in 2006. In the next Household Survey, we expect to see a further decrease”, he said.

Nearly nine out of 10 Sudanese women aged 15 to 49 have undergone some form of cutting to various degrees of severity. The procedure, also known as infibulation, or ‘pharaonic circumcision’, is usually performed on underage girls by traditional practitioners, who have no medical training.

Women’s health advocates say the procedure has life-long implications for women, including ongoing infection, infertility, psychological trauma and complications during childbirth.

In Eastern Sudan’s Kassala state, 78.9 per cent of girls and women have undergone the procedure – the third-highest prevalence in the country, according to the 2010 Sudan Household Health Survey.

The origins of the practice is steeped in traditional and societal ideals of beauty and cleanliness, religion and morality, and is also used as a method of stifling female libido.

The Sudanese government has introduced stiff penalties for those who continue to perform the procedure, however, the practice, which is still not criminalised by law in Sudan, remains widespread, particularly in rural communities.

The eradication of FGM is further complicated by cultural and societal pressures, as well as religious sensitivities surrounding the issue.

UNICEF is providing support for a national strategy to abolish FGM known as the Saleema initiative. Conceived in 2008, the campaign is being supervised by the National Council on Child Welfare.

The campaign slogan ‘Saleema’, meaning ‘whole’ or ‘intact’, is used to signify that a girl should remain the way she was born and attempts to promote the positive aspects and health benefits of not performing FGM on girls.

However, despite an extensive media campaign, the strategy has been criticised by some advocates for being too vague as it does not directly refer to FGM.

An estimated 125 million girls women and girls are thought to have undergone FGM in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

(ST)