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Ethics briefings
  1. Veronica English,
  2. Gillian Romano-Critchley,
  3. Julian Sheather,
  4. Ann Somerville
  1. BMA Ethics Department

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    Female genital mutilation

    Female genital mutilation generates passionate argument about child abuse and the limits of cultural independence. The Sudanese Women's Rights Group (SWRG), which is based in the United Kingdom (UK) issued a press release expressing grave concern about the Sudanese government's intention to legalise female genital mutilation (circumcision) (Sudanese Women's Rights Group press release Legalisation of female circumcision in Sudan, 18 June 2002). The Sudanese Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowment, together with an Islamic university, held a workshop entitled Towards the Legalisation of Female Circumcision & Establishment of Training Centers for Operators (excisors). It recommended that female circumcision should be legalised, awareness about its importance in society should be raised, and the Islamic University should establish centres all over the country for training practitioners of female circumcision. The SWRG is concerned about the strong support for the recommendations among government officials, in a country where 89% of women have been mutilated.1

    The Sudanese government's actions came just a few months before female genital mutilation was rejected at a 190 country strong world summit.2 The summit agreed that health care services must “conform to basic human rights and fundamental freedoms”, a provision designed to prevent female genital mutilation. Around the same time the American embassy in Nairobi said that Somali refugees who had rushed to circumcise their daughters before being moved to the US would probably be barred from emigrating.3 The statement prompted fierce debate, and the US later backtracked.4

    Recent debate in the UK focused on taking young girls abroad for mutilation. Nothing in UK law specifically prohibits families from taking daughters abroad for female genital mutilation, but doctors must consider what action they should take to protect a child at risk of being mutilated. The government is exploring ways to strengthen the Prohibition of Female …

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