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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Reversal hope for female mutilation victims
Girls are circumcised as young as six-years-old
A surgeon who runs a clinic carrying out reversals of female circumcisions says most patients can return to normal following treatment.

Consultant Harry Gordon runs a weekly surgery at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London and has carried out almost 300 operations.

He said that in 70% of the cases he has seen the damage was reversible.

Mr Gordon is helping the World Health Organisation carry out research that may help reduce the numbers of girls subjected to the procedure.

Inherited knowledge

Mr Gordon set up the clinic five years ago after he was approached for help by the pressure group Forward, which is trying to raise awareness of the problem of female circumcision.

In some parts girls are told that if the clitoris is not cut off it could grow to the size of an elephant's trunk

Harry Gordon, consultant surgeon

Most of his patients hail from Somalia in eastern Africa and were circumcised when they were six-years-old.

Mr Gordon said: "The procedures are normally carried out by a circumcisor who will have been taught by her mother and the knowledge is passed on from generation to generation.

"However in cities such as Mogadishu, quite a lot of the circumcisions are carried out by paramedics or medical staff.

"In most of the cases I see, the circumcision has been made by a series of incisions and then the skin is stitched across to make a barrier.

Circumcision deaths

"In about 70% of the operations we carry out, the clitoris is still present.

mother and daughter
Somalian mothers traditionally circumcise daughters
"Total removal of the clitoris could result in rupturing a large artery and the patient could bleed to death.

"And for a woman who carries out the procedure, a death would not be good for trade."

But in a random study carried out by Mr Gordon and his clinic staff, 10% of his patients knew of girls who had died during the circumcision.

He said: "We asked them if any of their friends or relatives had died.

"They were very philosophical about it and said they remembered 'those who did not make it'.

"Others could remember the empty desks in their school after the circumcisor had visited their area."

Local folklore

In western Africa, the circumcision is often more brutal and is underpinned by local folklore.

Mr Gordon said: "In some parts girls are told that if the clitoris is not cut off it could grow to the size of an elephant's trunk and elsewhere stories circulate that if it touches a baby during birth the youngster will die."

In Somalia the custom, which dates back about 600 years, is based on mothers being told that only prostitutes would not be circumcised.

The procedure, often carried out without anaesthetic, normally leaves women with a small orifice which is often expected to be broken open through forceful sexual intercourse.

Mr Gordon said: "If he can't do it he will take a knife to the girl himself.

"We had one girl come into emergency pouring blood but we were able to treat her.

"Most women here tell me that they would not have their daughters circumcised.

"But in Somalia they would be considered an outcast if it was not done."

See also:

23 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Female circumcision
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