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Study Links Custom of Female Cutting to Infertility

I'm Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Development Report.

New research suggests that the custom in parts of Africa and Asia to cut the sex organs of girls can cause infertility. The study shows that girls who are cut have an increased risk that they will not be able to get pregnant later in life. Researchers believe this is the result of infections that spread to the reproductive organs.

The findings are published in the Lancet. Doctor Lars Almroth of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden led the study. It involved ninety-nine infertile women in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The researchers made sure the infertility was not because of age, sexual diseases, a past medical operation or an infertile husband.

They say the women were five to six times more likely to have had the most severe form of cutting than women in another group. The study also included one hundred eighty women who were pregnant for the first time.

The researchers linked the risk of infertility to the extent of the cutting. They say the findings should not be used as an argument to support less extensive forms, even if done by a doctor. They say any damage could lead to changes that harm reproductive health.

Infections are not the only risk. Bleeding can lead to shock and death.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than one hundred thirty million females have experienced some form of cutting. Part or all of the genitals are removed. It is done in more than thirty countries. The most severe forms are found most often in northeastern Africa.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has called for an end to female genital mutilation by two thousand ten. Each year, an estimated two million girls reach the age where it might be done.

The age differs from culture to culture. It is usually between four and twelve. The reasons for this tradition also differ, but generally it is seen as a way to make a girl a better wife and mother in the future. Yet the new study shows that it could, in fact, make her infertile.

The Lancet also published a commentary by Layla Shaaban and Sarah Harbison of the United States Agency for International Development. They say there has been a slow reduction in cutting in a number of countries. They say the new study could provide a powerful, additional argument to end this ancient custom.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Our reports are on the Web at I'm Bob Doughty.