Kenyan Girl Rails Against Her Circumcision

For Mohamed, a Somali immigrant who deals with the health complications arising from FGM every day at her clinic, Fatuma's about-face is proof of the long-term effectiveness of what she calls "the soft approach" in the fight against FGM.

"I don't hate them for what they are," she said, referring to circumcisers and parents who have their daughters circumcised. "I just hate their actions. I don't feel it's a good way to bring in the police, to go to court. What will happen to the girls at home? How will they be treated?"

It's not just African and Middle Eastern governments that have to negotiate a policy balance between criminalizing the practice and investing in anti-FGM public awareness campaigns. Today, a growing number of Western countries — destinations for immigrants from countries that practice FGM — also have to confront the issue.

And by all accounts, countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several European nations have a tricky set of challenges to overcome.

Although FGM is banned in many large Western countries, experts say Western governments have had virtually no success in prosecuting in any case of female circumcision occurring within their borders, despite occasional reports that a circumcision was about to happen in a community.

The failure, experts say, could be due to a variety of reasons, from unsubstantiated reports and rumors reaching the authorities, to silence among immigrant groups.

"A failure to report cases, if any, would be mostly because these are minority communities and people tend to be protective," said Nahid Touima, president of RAINBO, an international women's rights organization led by African women. "Even people who don't like what's happening do not want to blow the lid on the community."

‘Holiday Circumcisions’

Another challenge facing Western governments is the modern adjustment of an age-old practice, a phenomenon commonly called "holiday circumcisions," when immigrant parents send their daughters back home to be circumcised during the summer holidays.

Experts say that by all accounts, the track record of destination countries having to confront this phenomenon has been disappointing.

"Many countries pass laws criminalizing FGM — largely because of pressure from rights groups and the media — and once the laws are passed, there's a feeling that the job is done," said Touima. "What is needed is the resources and will to reach minority communities at risk, efforts, for instance, that work within school systems so that teachers and fellow students are trained to identify children at risk of FGM."

Activists and experts say it's impossible to overemphasize the power of public awareness in the fight against FGM.

"I saw it on the TV that it was wrong," said Fouzia. "I saw it on the TV that some girls had died because of circumcision and some got very sick. So, I knew it was wrong, but I could not stop my mother."

But while the plucky 10-year-old was unable to save herself from the ghastly practice — the consequences of which she will have to endure her entire life — she takes comfort in the fact that she saved her baby sister. And strength from the fact that she's determined to save many more little girls like her.

"I want to be a doctor like Fardhosa," she said in an acknowledgement of the health-care worker who encouraged her to speak up against the practice. "I want to help girls who are running away from their homes to avoid circumcision. I want to be a doctor and talk to their parents and save them."

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