Friday, October 12, 2007

Female Genital Mutilation in the United Kingdom

As is generally known, female genital mutilation (FGM) is the mutilation of either the labia minora, labia majora, the clitoris or some other aspect of the female genitalia for religious or cultural reasons. While most of us are aware of this practice and consider it a barbaric human rights violation, I've not thought it to be a significant public health issue in the developed world. This may not be correct.

Medical News Today reported that in the United Kingdom, over 21,000 girls age 15 and under are "at risk" of being subjected to FGM. The risk these girls face is a consequence of the primative views of their parents, extended family and social peers. This surprisingly large number was derived from a study funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health.

If the study cited is correct, this corresponds to more than one out of every 300 girls in the UK (see my calculation below). From a more parochial perspective, one wonders how many girls in the United States face similar risks.

The majority of cases of FGM occur in African as well as many Muslim nations (although the Koran does not formally mention FGM). Certainly immigrants to the west bring to us their belief systems along with themselves. While the promotion of cultural diversity in our enlightened society may be a good thing in the abstract, its realization shall not be without limits. There comes a time when any civilized society simply has to declare an evil for what it is. This is not an issue where "moral relativism" can be tolerated.

Certainly, the study does not suggest that 21,000 girls in the UK will succumb to this fate at any given time. However, we should be filled with revulsion, anger and sorrow that so many who have come to the west continue to live under the specter of such an abomination.

There is a lesson here if we choose to face it.

Calculation of Prevalence of Risk of FGM
Statistics from England and Wales suggest that in 2005, their population was 19.3% children 15 and under. Half of these are presumably girls for a total of 9.7%. Assuming this ratio holds for the United Kingdom population as a whole (61 million in 2007), that would be 5.9 million girls. 5.9 million/21,000 girls at risk corresponds to one out of every 279 girls in the UK at risk of this brand of barbarism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are exactly correct in calling this practice evil.

What are the penalties? Can the parents be subject to any legal sanction, or will it be written off as "parental preference?"

October 16, 2007 4:51 PM  

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