Female Circumcision Heightens
Childbirth Risks: WHO
Female circumcision, performed on as many as 3 million
girls each year, complicates childbirth later in life and
causes higher mortality among their babies, the
World Health Organization (WHO) said.
In a new report, the United Nations
agency said women who had undergone the practice, also known
as female genital mutilation, were up to 70 percent more vulnerable
to potentially fatal hemorrhage after delivery than those
who had not.
Its study, involving some 28,000 women at obstetric centers
in six African countries where the practice is common, said
babies born to circumcised women were as much as 55 percent
more likely to die during or immediately after childbirth.
"We have, for the first time, evidence that deliveries among
women who have been subject to female genital mutilation are
significantly more likely to be complicated and dangerous,"
said Joy Phumaphi, WHO assistant director-general for family
and community health.
Up to 20 out of every 1,000 babies born in Africa die as
a direct result of their mothers' circumcision, the WHO said.
About 100 million women worldwide are estimated to have undergone
genital mutilation, which can involve cutting away the clitoris
and external genitalia and stitching the vaginal opening in
order to reduce women's sexual appetite.
The WHO said relatively inelastic scar tissue formed around
the wounds could cause obstruction and prolonged labor "which
increases the risk of caesarean section, heavy bleeding, distress
in the infant and stillbirth."
The degree of complications increased according to the extent
and severity of the procedure.
While predominant in 28 African countries, including Sudan,
Chad, Sierra Leone and Djibouti, female circumcision also
takes place in some areas of the Middle East and Asia and
among immigrant communities in Europe and North America.
Girls generally undergo the rite before the age of 10, often
without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions where they
are exposed to dangerous infections including
Phumaphi said the WHO strongly opposed having doctors perform
female genital mutilations to ensure they took place in a
clean or safe setting.
Recommending that health professionals be involved in female
circumcision would be endorsing an unacceptable practice,
she said. "That is the worst possible thing we can do. It
is worse than turning a blind eye."
Many African nations have legislated against female genital
mutilation but few are enforcing the rules, Berhane Ras-Work
of the Inter-African Committee for Traditional Practices said.
Citing Senegal and Burkina Faso as exceptions, she said most
countries in Africa were doing little to stop the widely decried
practice meant to ensure girls stay chaste before marriage
and remain loyal to their husbands.
In some areas, female circumcision is also seen as a means
to initiate girls into womanhood or improve hygiene. While
some consider the rite a requirement under the Muslim faith,
the WHO denied this, saying the practice predated Islam.