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Sunday, 18 February, 2001, 00:23 GMT
Circumcision: One woman's story
Amna Badri
Amna Badri was circumcised at the age of six
A major conference in London next week will tackle the issue of female circumcision.

BBC News Online's Community Affairs reporter, Cindi John, spoke to one woman about her personal experience of the practice.

Amna Badri's most vivid memory of the day she was circumcised in her native Sudan are the screams of her younger sister.

"Me and my sister went together for this occasion and they started with my sister.

"That was when we were very young but I have still in my memory that she started to scream, she was five when it was done and I was a year older.

"I remember that when it was my turn it did hurt," she recalled.

Amna Badri and her sister were among the more fortunate of woman who have been circumcised.

It often done to ensure a woman will be faithful to her future husband but Amna Badri's liberal family did not approve of the practice.

Although they went along with it so as not to bring shame on the family, they ensured that Amna and her sister only underwent the mildest form of the practice which involves slicing off a piece of the clitoris.

African girls
Girls must sometimes be circumcised to marry

But Mrs Badri said even though she had been circumcised that did not stop taunts from other girls who had undergone what is known in Sudan as phoronic circumcision, the most severe form of the practice.

It involves the entire removal of the genitalia and the stitching up of the outer lips of the vagina leaving only a small hole for urination and menstruation.

"The other people in my age group at school, they teased me and said mine was different from theirs because they had had phoronic circumcision.

"So they said we were not circumcised because it was nothing compared to what they had had done," she said.

Neither of Amna Badri's two daughters has been circumcised - Mrs Badri and her sister were the last women in her family to undergo the procedure.

Her family started a campaign against the practice in the late seventies and travelled the country trying to persuade others to give it up.

Mrs Badri said that now it was thought that only a minority of Sudanese families still favoured circumcision for their daughters.

But figures from the World Health Organisation show female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision, still affects approximately 138 million women and girls worldwide.

Side effects

Girls as young as three undergo the process, but the age at which the operation is performed varies according to country and culture.

Health workers say that the operation is often carried out in unsanitary conditions.

Anaesthesia is rarely given and frequently unsterilised implements such as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives and pieces of glass are used, sometimes on more than one girl, which increases the risk of infection.

In extreme cases girls can die as a result of haemorrhaging, septicaemia and shock.

Woman with scissors
Basic implements are often used in circumcisions

Mrs Badri said that her circumcision had few repercussions, but that some of her friends who had the extreme form are still suffering side effects.

"They had complications starting from when they started their periods.

"They had a lot of pain because the blood can't easily get out, also a lot of them had continual abscesses.

"The most complicated situation is childbirth because they have to be cut open and then they insist on being re-circumcised, stitched up again," she said.

FORWARD, a leading UK charity working in the field and the organiser of next week's FGM conference in London, has estimated that up to 15,000 girls in Britain are at risk.

The practice was outlawed in the UK in 1985 but many circumcisions are thought to be carried out clandestinely.

The organisation said definitive figures are difficult to come by due to the wall of silence surrounding the procedure, but anecdotal evidence pointed to the numbers rising.

Mrs Badri, who came to Britain with her family as a political refugee in 1997, now works to raise awareness among circumcised women of health services available to them.

But she said some women still believed circumcision was necessary.

"Doing circumcision over here is out of the question but sometimes they take children back to Sudan.

"We can't convince them that this is a bad habit and they shouldn't take that risk with their kids," she said.

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29 Dec 97 | Briefings
Female circumcision: facts and myths
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