SENEGAL/GAMBIA: Senegal, Gambia villages give up female circumcision

May 29, 2007

DIAMAKOUTA, Senegal --  Female circumcision was renounced in 212 villages in Senegal and Gambia May 27, along with weddings featuring child brides.

Some 1,500 inhabitants from the 12 Gambian and 200 Senegalese villages gathered in Diamakouta in southern Senegal near the Gambian border for a ceremony led by Tostan, a local Senegalese nongovernmental organization working to eradicate female circumcision.

Following witness accounts, theater pieces, and dance performances aimed at showing the risks and misery caused by female circumcision and forcing children into wedlock, the ceremony ended with a young girl reading a joint declaration in English, French, and several local languages vowing to halt the practices.

Tostan, which means "breakthrough" in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, has been working for a decade to eradicate female circumcision in the country through local actions and education.

Sunday marked the 26th declaration in Senegal vowing to halt female circumcision since 1997.

In all, 2,299 villages, or 45 percent of the 5,000 communities where the rite was still in practice 10 years ago, have vowed to renounce the tradition, according to Tostan.

"It was very difficult to begin with. The villagers were very attached to their traditions. We had to get the religious and traditional leaders as well as women involved to convince the communities to renounce child marriages and female circumcision," Tostan national coordination Kalidou Sy said.

Circumcision, which is already a health risk because many practitioners lack appropriate medical equipment, can range from the stitching up of young girls' vaginas to the excision of the clitoris.

Among the long-term complications are cysts, painful sexual intercourse, urinary incontinence, and difficulties with childbirth.

The practice was banned in Senegal in 1999 but persists in a number of the country's rural areas.

According to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, around 130 million of the world's girls and women have been circumcised and 3 million face the risk of circumcision.

SOURCE: Middle East Times

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DATE: 20/06/2007

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