Hospitals Increasingly Carrying Out Female Genital Mutilation Procedures

A Pokot girl, covered in animal skins, walks to a place where she will rest after being circumcised in a tribal ritual in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, October 16, 2014. Siegfried Modola/Reuters

Reports that in some African countries female genital mutilation (FGM) procedures are being carried out in hospitals have prompted activists, religious leaders and international rights groups to voice concern about the increasing medicalisation of the procedure.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 18% of FGM procedures are now being done by healthcare workers using surgical scissors and anesthetic, with an increasing number of doctors and nurses allegedly performing the procedure at the request of families, despite FGM being illegal in many countries.

The controversial procedure involves the partial or total removal of a woman's external genetalia. It is seen by some cultures as a right of passage for a girl entering womanhood, but is widely considered to be harmful to the health, wellbeing and rights of women.

The use of unsanitized tools and procedures that are carried out without medical supervision

can lead to illness, infection and even death. Catholic news source Crux News have said that at least three people died in Kenya last year as a result of the procedure, including 13-year-old Raima Ntagusa and 16-year-old Alivina Noel, who both bled to death.

Although carrying out the procedures in a medical setting might reduce some of the risk, it also indicates a worrying shift in the medicalisation of the practice, and shows that some health workers are flaunting the fact that FGM has been outlawed in many countries - Kenya banned the practise in 2011 for example.

"Taking it to hospital does not make it right," Rev. Richard Nyangoto, a Roman Catholic priest from Kisii County, Kenya told Crux News. "It's evil," he added, saying that the procedures are often being carried out by medical workers in return for money.

According to a 2013 UNICEF report Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, 86% of girls and women in Kenya think FGM should end. Social acceptance was the most widely cited reason for women undergoing the procedure in the report.

Oliver Chantler, external affairs manager of Orchid Project, a FGM advocacy group, says that although the WHO are calling this medicalisation a "major trend", it's been happening for several years.

Chantler said: "It is important that international policy makers recognise that the medicalisation of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) takes place in numerous countries". He added that Egypt is the country where the highest number of procedures are carried out in a medical setting. WHO data indicates that girls in Egypt are three times more likely to undergo FGM carried out by a medical practitioner than their mothers were.

"In order to end FGC, whether in medicalised contexts or not, we need to see community-led programmes," he said.

In December 2014, Unicef said that the total number of women and girls who have been cut is 130 million and that the practise continues to be carried out in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East.