A Declaration against Female Circumcision is the latest weapon to help migrant parents prevent their daughters from undergoing the procedure. With the document in hand they can show their relatives in their home countries that the female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in the Netherlands.
The Dutch health service (GGD) believes there are around 25,000 girls in the Netherlands at risk of FGM. The procedure is unnecessary, extremely painful and dangerous, say the health authorities. The trick is to bring the subject out into the open. Parents should be made to feel able to discuss why they want their daughters circumcised, says paediatrician Dr Feuth.
“We are trying to enter into a dialogue with parents and to inform them about the risks. The procedure itself can cause infection or serious loss of blood. Girls can even die as a result. The health service lso informs parents about the social and psychological consequences for the child and about how she experiences sex later in life.”
Most victims of FGM come from Africa. Although people in African countries do realise that it is genital mutilation and can be risky, many African migrants continue the practice.
As it is banned in the Netherlands, most girls are circumcised during holidays to their country of origin. Five years ago, 32-year-old Fatima Diallo from Guinea took her five-year-old daughter back home with her. Her circumcision was brought up almost immediately.
“My sister-in-law wanted to do it herself. I said: ‘Don’t touch her. Don’t touch my child. It is not going to happen.’ Then she told me, ‘It happened to your grandmother, your mother and your sister. Why shouldn’t it happen to you? Why?"
Change in mentality
"Sometimes parents do it because of their faith, sometimes they have different motives", says Somalian Zahra Naleie, of the Federation of Somalian Associations in the Netherlands, which has been campaigning against female genital mutilation for years.
“In Sierra Leone, they say it’s tradition. In Somalia and Sudan they say it’s to do with Islam. But more often than not it’s a cultural practice which people perpetuate.”
Naleie thinks banning the practice is not enough. Raising awareness should lead to a change in mentality. Female genital mutilation is taboo, even within families.
This is not the first attempt by the Netherlands to draw attention to FGM. Since 2009, migrant parents can sign a similar document at child health clinics. The main difference this time is that the document carries a stamp from the ministries of health and justice.
Ms Naleie thinks the declaration does make an impression when parents have to defend their decision to relatives: “It is an official government document, signed by two ministries. Real proof. My mother can show the family during my holiday that it’s illegal in the Netherlands.”
The declaration is translated into various languages so that relatives can read it themselves. Parents from countries where female circumcision is common practice are given a copy of the declaration when their child is born.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Reversing female circumcision remains taboo
Brochure on female circumcision/female genital mutilation