Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cutting the rose - Somalia's the place.

Somaliland now center for illegal female cutting.

Hargeisa, the peaceful capital of the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland, has become a new centre for the Somali Diaspora wanting to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on their daughters. Most live in countries where FGM is strictly forbidden, including when this is done abroad.

A team from the Norwegian public broadcaster 'NRK' last week visited Hargeisa, where it easily found practitioners of the outlawed practice of FGM (also referred to as "female circumcision" or "female cutting"), which is widely condemned as strongly harmful to women and girls, also by many Muslim religious leaders.

The Somalilander women performing FGM did so privately or in open cooperation with public health facilities in Hargeisa, where most worked as midwifes. Among Somalis, female genital mutilation is very widespread and the UN estimates that 98 percent of women in Somaliland and Somalia have been subjected to the harmful practice.

In most countries where the large Somali Diaspora is represented, however, FGM is strictly outlawed. Research nevertheless shows that a majority of Somali parents living abroad ignore the laws of their host country and continue exposing their daughters to this culturally based practice.

And as southern Somalia remains an unsafe destination, peaceful Somaliland has emerged a safe haven for Somalis wanting to visit friends and family. Or wanting to stick to traditions.

The 'NRK' team met with ten FGM practitioners in Hargeisa saying they had performed the cut on at least 185 Somali girls living in Norway. The practitioners further confirmed that Norway-based parents were popular clients as they paid "well", typically euro 20 each girl. European summer holidays were seen as the top season for these women performing FGM.

Based on these data, it is estimated that thousands of young girls are brought to Hargeisa each year from Europe alone to undergo the mutilation. Somali women rights organisations all over Europe and North America have for years tried to address this practice, knowing that each summer holiday, hundreds of young girls are taken to Hargeisa for just this reason.

In Norway, this revelation caused a public outcry and fuelled the debate about how to better enforce national legislation outlawing FGM. Politicians have proposed anything from information campaigns targeting Somalis in Norway, to obliging medics to report cases they come over to the police and introducing obligatory health tests for girls returning from summer holidays in Somalia.

While Somali parents living abroad can be taken to court for child abuse after having taken their daughters to Somaliland to undergo FGM, the Hargeisa practitioners operate in full legality. Attempts to outlaw FGM in Somaliland have so far failed.