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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 16:00 GMT
Circumcision survivor's story of hope
Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online

Salimata Knight
Salimata Knight says she has learnt to forgive her parents

As parents who take their daughters abroad to undergo female circumcision are told they face up to 14 years in jail, BBC News Online speaks to one of the survivors.

Salimata Knight says her struggle to come to terms with female circumcision has led her to forgive her parents - but to campaign passionately to stop it happening to anyone else.

The 37-year-old, originally from Senegal, was living in Paris when she was forced to undergo a procedure which has changed her life.

She hopes to use her story of female circumcision to save tens of thousands of young victims from the same risk to health and happiness.

"We have to stop these practices, this repetition of a crime," she said.

It's like they somehow take something away from you
Salimata Knight
"You can have scars and also socially it is really strong because all of your life you know you've been violated, mutilated, abused.

"On the day they say they are going to do it, they don't tell you really what is going to happen. Nobody gives you a brief, you are terrified.

"It's like they somehow take something away from you.

"Because there is all the ceremony with the whole community, and everybody's for it, it becomes like it's normal.

"But this is terrible, this is wrong."

Backstreet doctors

The 37-year-old, who is married and has lived in Swanage, on England's south coast, for the past eight years, now runs her own outdoor activities company there.

But she also lectures in the UK and abroad on the compelling reasons why female genital mutilation must stop.

As many as 7,000 girls in the UK are currently thought to be at risk of being forced to undergo circumcision, which involves surgically removing the clitoris and sometimes parts of the labia.

I had to say, 'How can I go forward from there and forgive my mum or other women?'
Salimata Knight

Some are taken to backstreet doctors in the UK, while others are taken "on holiday" by their parents to countries where the procedure is still commonly carried out.

"The major problem is although the girls are born here, there is such pressure here from the country of origin, from the grandma or the men or even the women themselves," said Mrs Knight.

"The mum is forced to take the girl back with her to circumcise her."

Mrs Knight said she had eventually been able to forgive her own parents for enforcing the custom.

"I came myself to understand what happened to me by a lot of counselling, a lot of doctors' advice.

Home Secretary David Blunkett meets members of campaign group Forward
David Blunkett backs campaigners against female circumcision
"I had to say, 'How can I go forward from there and forgive my mum or other women?' Because they did not know what to do to stop, or why.

"My mum said she never wanted me to be circumcised. I was taken to my grandma's in Paris.

"Now forgiveness is to tackle ourselves - who we are, where we come from and what we want from this."

She believes the measures introduced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act will help to change the way communities think, both in Africa and the UK.

"Today is a great day for the future and I have a lot of hope because it stands for women's happiness and men's as well," she said.

Reversing female circumcision
08 Feb 03  |  Health
Kenyan girls flee mutilation
07 Feb 03  |  Africa

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