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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – February 24, 2003: Female Genital Cutting - 2003-02-21

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Activists for the rights of women have declared a yearly observance to oppose the cutting of female sex organs. This tradition is followed mostly in Africa.

February sixth is to be observed as what organizers call an International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation. Delegates at a conference in Ethiopia marked the first observance this month. They condemned the cutting as a form of torture. The wives of the presidents of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Nigeria and Mali took part in the conference.

The World Health Organization estimates that one-hundred-thirty-million girls and women have experienced some form of cutting. The cutting involves removing part or all of the female genitals.

The United Nations Children’s Fund called on world leaders to end this tradition by two-thousand-ten. UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said that each year an estimated two-million girls are at risk of cutting. She said laws against it need to be put in place and enforced.

About half the fifty-three countries in Africa have banned the tradition. But it continues. The cutting is usually done without any medicine for the pain. Infections can result from the use of dirty cutting tools. Severe bleeding can lead to shock and death.

Cutting can also interfere with pregnancy and birth. And medical experts say it can affect the mental health of women by interfering with normal sexual desire.

The age at which the cutting is performed differs from culture to culture. It is usually done between the ages of four and twelve. The reasons for doing it also differ from place to place. Some cultures see it as a normal process based on love and a wish to protect. Other cultures see it as part of the path to becoming a woman.

Africa is not the only place where female genital cutting takes place. The tradition is also common in some Middle Eastern countries. Some Muslim groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and India also do it.

Efforts to end cutting face resistance from women who see no harm in this tradition. They defend its cultural value.

No matter where it happens, though, activists say it violates the human rights of girls and women. They say it is important in the campaign against cutting to educate not only females but also boys and men about this issue.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.