female circumsion

A doctor will stand trial for the first time in Egypt
on charges of female genital mutilation after the
death of a 13-year-old girl last year. The girl’s
father, who took her to the clinic, is also being tried
in the landmark prosecution.
It was June 2013, and Suhair al Bataa was burdened by
punishing heat, and a feeling of foreboding.
Friends say the youngster was frightened. They recall that
when she went to repair her shoes, she said it would be for
the last time. She told one of her sisters to look after the
The top student was facing a brutal summertime ritual –
female genital mutilation (FGM). She did not survive it.
Widely practised
Suhair lived and died in a small farming community on the
outskirts of the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.
Beneath the lush green landscape lies a bedrock of faith and
tradition. Both play a role in perpetuating FGM.
It has been outlawed since 2008 but is still widely
practised in Egypt, which has one of the highest prevalence
rates in the world.
Over 90% of women under 50 have experienced it,
according to government figures.
The removal of all or part of the external genitalia is done
in the name of promoting chastity. Some parents see it as
a religious duty in spite of a ruling against it by one of
Egypt’s leading Islamic authorities, the Grand Mufti.
Typically it is carried out on girls aged between nine and
13 but there are victims as young as six, according to
campaigners against FGM.
They say there are even unconfirmed reports of newborns
being subjected to it.
Outside Suhair’s modest home, her relatives defended the
practice, and insisted no-one was to blame for her death.
“It is God’s will,” said her grandfather Mohamed al Bataa, a
gaunt-faced man wearing a brown gallabeya (traditional
floor-length shirt). “We are not angry with the doctor. The
doctor does not want to kill anyone. We are all sorry, and
definitely we regret this.”
But when asked if it was right to subject Suhair to FGM,
her uncle Hassan’s response was swift. “Yes of course,” he
said. “It has been done in the countryside for a long time.
People here are used to it. Without circumcision, girls are
full of lust.”
Hidden death toll
Suhair’s grandmother, after whom she was named, told us
she herself was circumcised when she was about eight
years old.
“We were four sisters, and we were circumcised in one
day,” she said. “Each of us was put in one corner of the
room. Afterwards they gave us food and drinks.”
Suhair’s uncle said FGM was necessary to keep girls’ sexual
desires in check
Gypsies used to carry out the circumcisions, she told us,
placing dust and salt on the wounds.
These days doctors carry out more than 70% of FGM
procedures in Egypt. That is part of the problem, according
to Philippe Duamelle, of the UN Children’s agency, Unicef.
“It’s perceived as being safer, but no-one learns how to do
this at medical school. We should definitely assume more
girls are dying as Suhair did,” he said.
The number of girls killed by FGM in Egypt is unclear,
according to Mr Duamelle, because deaths are recorded as
haemorrhages or allergic reactions to penicillin.
That was the reason put forward by Suhair’s doctor, Raslan
Fadl Halawa, when we tracked him down at the private
clinic in his home.
Suhair’s neighbours say the clinic was well-known for FGM,
with up to a dozen procedures carried out there every day.
Dr Halawa denied performing FGM on Suhair and said he
had only treated her for genital warts.
The doctor, who was visibly agitated, said the penicillin was
given to her by someone else. Prosecutors think otherwise.
They are putting Dr Halawa on trial, together with Suhair’s
father, who brought her to his clinic.
Easily arranged
Campaigners warn that support for FGM is hard to quash –
even in Suhair’s village.
“The case has started a debate among the liberal-minded,”
said Mohamed Ismail, who works for a local women’s rights
organisation. “But for the dogmatic even the death of the
girl hasn’t changed their minds.”
As we filmed in Suhair’s village, we found evidence of that.
“What’s all the fuss about?” one old woman asked. “Why
did you come here? A thousand or so girls were
circumcised after she died.”
Hanan, a fruit-seller, sat nearby with her infant daughter
Farah on her lap. She told us she plans to have the curly-
haired infant circumcised, by a doctor, when she reaches


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