AUSTRALIA: Girls mutilated for 'tradition'

AT least 50 women who have undergone painful and illegal female circumcision have been treated at two Sydney hospitals in the past year.

Health workers fear a new generation of Australian-born girls are being forced to undergo the painful procedure by their migrant families to comply with cultural traditions.

Obstetricians and gynaecologists at Auburn Hospital have treated 38

patients with female circumcisions over the past year.

Canterbury Hospital also treats between 10 and 15 such patients a year.

All say they had the procedure done overseas but there are fears many more Australian women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) because it is unreported to authorities.

Health workers say there is evidence some parents are taking their daughters overseas or to secret practices within the country to have the procedure.

These are understood to involve both qualified doctors and untrained, backyard operations.

It is a criminal offence to remove a child from any Australian state or

territory and go abroad so they can have the procedure. The maximum penalty in NSW is seven years jail.

Health experts say better awareness campaigns are needed as many migrant families are unaware of the law.

NSW hospitals in areas with high immigrant populations - especially in southern and western Sydney - are increasingly seeing women with female circumcisions during pregnancies.

Samia Baho, who co-ordinates a family and reproductive rights education program, believes that the issue needs more public discussion.

"I am very concerned about communities not knowing about this legislation and taking young girls overseas to have the procedure done," she said.

"UNICEF is also finding that communities that never practised it before are doing it now because they are thinking: our girls are going to

Western societies so we need to keep control of them."

Dr Andrew Child, director of women's and children's health services at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said a lot of work had been put into treating FGM.

A former president of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, he said: "It can be extremely difficult at times working out how to fix things and deliver a baby properly."

Dr Brian Morris, an expert on male circumcision, said FGM was "disgusting and shouldn't happen".

Christian Democrat MP Dr Gordon Moyes recently raised the issue in State Parliament and yesterday called on the Government to compel medical staff to report cases of female genital mutilation to police.

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