Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On Female Circumcision and the Law

The phenomenon of female circumcision has long been regarded as a traditional cultural practice, in some quarters (It happens in many communities around the world). But in the eyes of the law, in the 21st century Australia, it is nothing more than Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); hence, a criminal offence.

Female circumcision is against the law in all States and Territories of the Commonwealth of Australia. And each State or Territory has its own laws against the practice.

In South Australia, for instance, FMG is covered by section 26 of the Children’s Protection Act 1993.

The practice has been illegal since 1997.

All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or other reasons, are prohibited by the law.

Therefore, it is against the spirit of the law to perform the following types of female circumcision or FGM:
• Remove or cut out any part of the female genital area (the law calls this “excision”)
• Stitch up the female genital area (infibulation) – excluding therapeutic reasons.
• Cut the clitoris or part of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
• Damage the female genital area in other ways.

The point to note is that female circumcision, as an ancient ritual, has no place in a civilised society and must be abolished because of the obvious health implications.

Immediate health problems can include violent pain, repeated urinary and kidney infections, as well as problems during labour and childbirth.

In fact, the law says it is illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure a person to perform female circumcision or FGM on a woman, girl or female baby”; even if the female wants it to be done.

Anyone who breaks this law commits a serious offence and can be sent to prison for up to 7 years.

South Australia has an effective education program for communities which practise female circumcision. The program is also aimed at helping all education and health workers understand more about the practice so that they can provide better services to women and girls who are circumcised.
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