AFRICAN NEWS: US circumcision jailing fires debate in Africa

By www.andnetwork .com
The jailing of an Ethiopian in the United States for circumcising his daughter with scissors has fuelled a passionate debate across Africa, with many approving the punishment but some urging understanding.

In what is believed to be the first such case in the United States, Khalid Adem on Wednesday was sentenced to 10 years in prison for removing his 2-year-old daughter’s clitoris in 2001. The practice arouses horror in the West, but is still widespread in many of Africa’s traditional societies.

“The punishment is appropriate because what he did is a violation of child rights,” Bulti Gueteema, a senior official in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, told Reuters.

Ethiopian mother Elizabeth Gorge said it was “revolting” for a father to circumcise his own daughter by himself. “Even the uneducated parents in rural areas do not do such practices on their own, they always seek assistance of women who specialise in this,” she said in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the practice was outlawed but still common in his Horn of Africa nation.

“If a whole community is involved in this practice, you cannot jail an entire community. You have to change the mindset, and that takes time,” he said last week. An estimated 3 million girls and women are mutilated or cut each year on the African continent, the United Nations’ children’s agency UNICEF says, in a custom viewed in many traditional cultures as a necessary rite of passage.

Circumcision is also used to control or reduce women’s sexual desire to lessen the chance of promiscuity in marriage. Opponents say it disfigures and sometimes kills, causes psychological harm, complicates childbirth later in life and reduces sexual pleasure for women.

The practice, also known as female circumcision, usually involves cutting off the clitoris and other genitalia parts. It is often carried out by an older woman with no medical training, using anything from scissors to pieces of glass under no anaesthetic or antiseptic treatment. As populations move West, the custom has followed in immigrant communities.

“As long as this happens in a civilised society in the United States, it means our effort to eradicate this practice has failed,” said Bjorn Ljungqvist, of UNICEF in Ethiopia. In Kenya, it is known to be still common among traditional communities like the Maasai. “If a woman is not cut, she remains a baby forever and cannot perform social rites with other women,” Ben Koissaba, a Maasai elder in Kenya, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Narok in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

PUBLISHED ON: November 2, 2006
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