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Despite laws prohibiting it, FGC is widely practiced in Ethiopia and other African countries.. (C)UNICEF/Getachew

Six-year-old Asmah Mohamad, who three days ago was forced to undergo a painful FGM/C procedure, is comforted by her mother Bedria, in the village of Harmukaleh, in the Shinile zone of Somali Region. Though she did not want to hurt her daughter, Bedria believes that Asmah could not marry honourably without the operation. “From our own experience we know that [cutting] causes problems. However because it is the tradition, we continue to do it.” [#3 IN” SEQUENCE OF SEVEN]

In 2006 in Ethiopia, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) continues to be widely practised. Despite national laws prohibiting it and the often lifelong physical pain and related medical problems, tradition remains the stronger influence. Seventy-four per cent of Ethiopian women aged 15-49 have undergone some form of FGM/C. In (south-eastern) Somali Region, where girls as young as seven are subjected to the practise, the prevalence rate is 95 per cent. Many communities believe that the ‘cutting and sealing’ of the genitals prevents promiscuity before marriage and ensures fidelity afterwards. Women who do not undergo the procedure are often ostracized and considered ineligible for an honourable marriage. To help change these traditional beliefs, UNICEF supports a government initiative led by the Somali Region Women’s Affairs Office to create community dialogues to discuss the issue. One forum was held in the village of Fafan. The village imam began the discussion by advising that “…Islam does not allow female genital mutilation and cutting…” He was followed by women who have been cut and continue to suffer its affects; concerned mothers who lament their daughters’ pain but fear for their marriage prospects; a young woman who regrets not having been cut because she cannot find a husband; and a young man who sympathized with the women’s suffering but still wishes to marry a woman who has undergone the practise. Nearby, four girls aged 6-8 years old, sat together, recovering from having been cut just a few days before.