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The Independent | 31.05.2013
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CIP | 22.03.2013
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AFP | 2008-11-23

Iraq's Kurdish areas prepare to ban female circumcision

ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Parliament in Iraq's northern autonomous region of Kurdistan is preparing to outlaw female circumcision, according to a woman MP and doctor who has long battled to halt the widespread practice.

"A bill making circumcision illegal will be presented in parliament over the next few days," Dr Hala Suheil told AFP, saying it would impose jail terms and fines on offenders.

UNICEF, the UN children's fund, regards "female genital mutilation" as "one of the most persistent, pervasive and silently endured human rights violations."

Kurdistan health minister Zarian Abdel Rahman said that in the region "60 percent of girls aged four to fourteen undergo circumcision, despite warnings by ministers against this grievous practice committed in the name of religion and hygiene."

He was speaking on Friday at a three-day conference on violence towards women, held in Arbil, capital of the province of the same name, 350 kilometres (219 miles) north of Baghdad.

Circumcision involves the partial or complete removal of the female external genitals. It can cause death through haemorrhaging and later complications during childbirth.

It also carries risks of infection, urinary tract problems and mental trauma.

The German non-government group Wadi carried out research in 201 villages in the three autonomous provinces and in the predominantly Kurdish Kirkuk area in September.

It found that 3,502 out of 5,628 women and girls surveyed had been mutilated -- an average of more than 62 percent.
The practice, encouraged by some clerics, does not appear to exist in other parts of Iraq.

"The ministry of religious affairs should tell imams to speak out against female circumcision in sermons during Friday prayers so their flocks shun the practice," Abdel Rahman said.

"The education ministry should also introduce programmes in schools to encourage girls not to submit to their parents' wishes in this regard."

While widespread in the African continent, it is not known how female circumcision was introduced into northern Iraq. "This practice began in the region so long ago, and we have no idea where it comes from. But the ancients justified it by saying it would preserve a girl's chastity," said Dr Suheil, adding that no precise statistics are available.

"Old women circumcise young girls using barber's razors and even shards of glass, often causing terrible haemorrhaging and sometimes death," the MP said.

Sheikh Sayyed Ahmad Abdel Wahab al-Panjawini, imam of Arbil's Hajj Jamal mosque, said "iIt may be an old custom, but it has nothing to do with Islam."

"No religious text mentions this practice. It is a custom that some have introduced to the Muslim way of thinking." In a recent article in the Kurdish daily newspaper Hawlati, the secretary general of the Islamic Women's Union, Bekhal Abu Bakr, wrote that "female genital mutilation is not a Muslim practice."

"Many of the problems experienced by women are the result of erroneous traditions, and Islam is not to blame," she said. "Sharia (Islamic law) is a long way from such practices, and circumcision exists because some people interpret the Koran in a false manner," she said, alluding to obligatory male circumcision.