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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 04:06 GMT 05:06 UK
GPs alerted to female circumcision
Female circumcision
Female circumcision is still a ritual among some African communities
British doctors are being issued with guidelines to help them protect young girls from circumcision.

The practice, also known as female genital mutilation, is banned in the UK, but is traditional among many African communities, and medical experts believe GPs will see more cases among certain asylum seeker groups.

The main communities who practise circumcision in the UK are Eritreans, Ethiopians, Somalis and Yemenis.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is advising GPs to be on the alert and to contact social services if they suspect parents are planning to take their daughters abroad to be circumcised.

The BMA says if a family requests the procedure for their daughter, their GP should explain it is illegal and classified as child abuse in the UK.


Female genital mutilation is a practice that causes girls and women serious health and psychological problems for life

Professor Vivienne Nathanson, BMA
The guidelines state: "If necessary doctors should seek the help of social services, counsellors and other health professionals when dealing with cases of female genital mutilation.

"Where parents cannot be persuaded that their daughter should not be subjected to female genital mutilation, doctors will have to find sensitive ways to explain that steps may be taken to prevent the child from being mutilated.

"If a doctor fears that a girl may be taken abroad for genital mutilation he/she may have to consider initiating child protection proceedings if there is no other feasible way of protecting the child."

About 138 million women worldwide have undergone genital mutilation, according to the World Health Organisation.

Reversal

An all-party parliamentary group estimated that there are 3-4,000 new cases in the UK every year, but the true figure is believed to be higher.

The BMA's Head of Ethics Professor Vivienne Nathanson said: "Female genital mutilation is a practice that causes girls and women serious health and psychological problems for life.

"There is no doubt that parents agree to the practice with the best interests of their daughters at heart but doctors must work with families to show them that by agreeing to this procedure they are causing them untold harm and damage."

Genital mutilation involves procedures which include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs.

It is carried out for many different reasons, from hygiene and aesthetics to protecting virginity, enhancing male sexual pleasure or discouraging promiscuity.

The procedure is usually performed on girls between the ages of four to 13, but in some cases it is carried out on babies or young women prior to marriage or pregnancy.

NHS clinics perform genital mutilation reversals and doctors were urged to encourage mutilated women to have the operation before becoming pregnant.

See also:

23 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Female circumcision
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