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Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Birth risk for circumcised women
Female circumcision
Circumcisions are often carried out without anaesthetics
The babies of circumcised women are more likely to be stillborn and their mothers to suffer serious problems, according to scientists.

A study of almost 2,000 in south-west Nigeria looked specifically at women with particular types of circumcision.

They found that women who had part or all of their clitoris and/or skin tissue of the vulva removed had a "significantly" higher risk of tearing because of their extensive scar tissue.

The study, published in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, said women who had been circumcised could suffer long-lasting reproductive health problems and stillbirths.

Tradition

They also generally suffered more prolonged first labours than those who were not circumcised, but did have less Caesarean sections or episiotomies.


We believe in the WHO that the more data we have that can be disseminated to the people in charge of the programme the more it will help us in fighting these procedures

Dr Heli Bathija, of WHO

There are calls for the data to be used to persuade countries to give up the practice.

There are already indications that the practice is dying out in some areas.

Dr Heli Bathija, a circumcision specialist for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said she hoped the new data would enable them to persuade people against circumcision.

"We believe in the WHO that the more data we have that can be disseminated to the people in charge of the programme the more it will help us in fighting these procedures."

Main types of female circumcision:
The removal of the tip of the clitoris
Total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia
The removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood - a process known as infibulation

She said that the WHO had prepared manuals for midwives in the countries where they practise circumcision to ensure births are as safe as possible.

The data showed that women who had been circumcised had up to a 9.2% risk of stillbirth in their first pregnancy depending on the severity of the circumcision, compared with a 6.3% risk for uncircumcised women.

In second pregnancies the rate drops to up to 5.7% for circumcised women, or 2.3% for uncircumcised mothers.

Mother and child
Somalian mothers traditionally circumcise daughters

The risk of suffering a tear rises up to 3.5% if the women are circumcised. from 1.6% if they are not.

Supporters of circumcision say it is done for cultural and religious reasons, but opponents say that not only is it potentially life-threatening, it is also an extreme form of oppression of women.

Tearing

Female circumcision is mainly carried out in western and southern Asia, the Middle East and large areas of Africa.

It is also known to take place among immigrant communities in the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Britain, where it is illegal.

In total it is estimated that 2m women a year are subjected to genital mutilation.

The aim of the process is to ensure the woman is faithful to her future husband.

Some communities consider girls ineligible for marriage if they have not been circumcised.

'Unsanitary'

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.

Razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives and even pieces of glass are used, often on more than one girl, which increases the risk of infection.

Anaesthesia is rarely used.

Some girls die as a result of haemorrhaging, septicaemia and shock.

See also:

21 Aug 01 | Health
18 Feb 01 | Health
23 Dec 98 | Medical notes
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