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FINLAND: Fewer Operations To Fix Damage From "Female Circumcision" At Public Health Clinics

Fewer operations to fix damage from "female circumcision" at public health clinics
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Finnish hospitals have been conducting surgery on women who have undergone female genital mutilation, otherwise referred to as "female circumcision", since the 1990s.
      Most of the patients have been Somali immigrants. In recent years, however, the number of procedures has declined sharply at Finnish public health facilities.
      The restorative surgery principally opens up the birth canal, which had been sewn shut.
     

No such operations have been performed at the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCS) in recent years, says head physician Jari Sjöberg.
      Head physician Maija Haukkamaa of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at HUCS says that in the 1990s a few Somali women asked local health clinics in Helsinki for restorative surgery.
      "Corrective operations were also performed before a first birth. After the birth, the vaginal opening was left open", she says.
     
Health nurse Batulo Essak of the AIDS Support Centre believes that restorative surgery has become more common in Finland in recent years. Essak, who moved to Finland from Somalia nearly 20 years ago, says that such operations are performed on girls and young women to ease menstrual pain, and in the early stages of pregnancy.
      Essak's views are echoed by project expert, special nurse Saido Mohamed of the Finnish League for Human Rights.
      "Increasing numbers of women want a corrective operation before getting married."
     
Mohamed and Essak feel that the popularity of the surgery is an indication of adapting to Finnish culture.
      They say that such operations are largely performed at private clinics, because the wait is long on the public side.
     
Female genital mutilation is seen as aggravated assault under Finnish legislation. No cases have been prosecuted, and experts do not believe that such procedures are taking place even in homes.
      "It is known that even small girls might be taken to their home countries to be operated on", says Heikki Pälve, executive director of the Finnish Medical Association.
      In June, Norway began to clamp down on foreign travel in cases in which there was cause to suspect that the aim of the trip was to have a girl "circumcised".
     
Because of doctor-patient confidentiality, doctors are allowed to tell police only about their suspicion of the most serious crimes.
      One medical researcher, Mulki Mölsä of the University of Helsinki, says that fewer immigrants feel that circumcision is necessary. Mölsä has studied attitudes from the early 1990s, and the newest and hitherto unpublished study is from this year.
      "Their view is that religion does not require an operation, and that Finnish law does not allow it", Mölsä says.
     
According to Ugaso Jama Guleid, a Somali midwife attending an international conference on female genital mutilation that begins in Helsinki today, as many as 98% of girls in Somalia are circumcised even now.
      The midwife, who is an outspoken opponent of the practice, nevertheless said that she was not aware of cases in which girls returned home, for instance from the Nordic region, for the express purpose of having the operation.

SOURCE: Helsingin Sanomat

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DATE: 08/09/2007

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