BIG DE­BATE OVER FE­MALE CIR­CUM­CI­SION IN IN­DONE­SIA

Prac­tice con­tin­ues due to su­per­sti­tion

New Straits Times - - World -

GORONTALO

IN­DONE­SIAN tod­dler Salsa Dja­far was wear­ing a glit­ter­ing golden crown dec­o­rated with rib­bons and a shiny pur­ple dress to mark a spe­cial oc­ca­sion — her cir­cum­ci­sion day.

At the cel­e­bra­tions at­tended by rel­a­tives, shrieks filled the mod­est, yel­low-walled house in the re­mote prov­ince here as a tra­di­tional healer cov­ered the 18month-old girl with a white sheet and sliced skin off her gen­i­tals.

The healer used a knife to re­move a tiny piece of skin from the hood that cov­ers the cli­toris — which she said looked like a “gar­lic skin” — then stuck the knife into a lemon.

It marked the end of a pro­ce­dure sup­posed to rid the child of sin and sig­nal she was now of­fi­cially a Mus­lim.

“It’s hard to see her cry­ing like this, but it is tra­di­tion,” said her fa­ther Ar­jun Dja­far, a 23-year-old labourer, at last month’s cer­e­mony.

Fe­male cir­cum­ci­sion — also known as fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion or FGM — has been prac­tised for gen­er­a­tions across In­done­sia, which is the world’s big­gest Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try, and is con­sid­ered a rite of pas­sage by many.

The United Na­tions con­demns the prac­tice and the govern­ment once sought to ban it, but op­po­si­tion from re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and its wide­spread ac­cep­tance mean FGM has been im­pos­si­ble to stamp out.

Nowhere is it more com­mon than Gorontalo, a deeply con­ser­va­tive area on the cen­tral is­land of Su­lawesi, where the pro­ce­dure is typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­nied by elab­o­rate rit­u­als and cel­e­bra­tions.

A govern­ment sur­vey es­ti­mated over 80 per cent of girls aged 11 and un­der here had been cir­cum­cised, com­pared with about 50 per cent of girls in the same cat­e­gory na­tion­wide.

De­spite the pain it causes and grow­ing op­po­si­tion in­side and out­side In­done­sia, res­i­dents of Gorontalo, mostly poor rice farm­ers, con­sider fe­male cir­cum­ci­sion an obli­ga­tion.

The healer, Khadi­jah Ibrahim, who in­her­ited her job from her mother when she died sev­eral years ago, said girls who were left un­cut risked de­vel­op­ing “men­tal prob­lems and dis­abil­i­ties”.

Lo­cal heal­ers say the prac­tice pre­vents girls from be­com­ing pro­mis­cu­ous in later life, while there is also a wide­spread be­lief that un­cir­cum­cised Mus­lim women’s prayers will not be ac­cepted by God.

But the prac­tice is not lim­ited to far-flung parts of the archipelago. It re­mains com­mon among Mus­lim fam­i­lies even in Jakarta, al­though doc­tors there typ­i­cally carry out a less ex­treme form of the pro­ce­dure that in­volves prick­ing the cli­toral hood with a nee­dle.

To ac­com­mo­date cul­tural and re­li­gious con­sid­er­a­tions, the govern­ment has moved away from at­tempts to ban the prac­tice en­tirely, and has in­stead sought to stamp out the more harm­ful meth­ods and en­sure safety.

Au­thor­i­ties in­sist the meth­ods most com­monly used in In­done­sia — usu­ally in­volv­ing a pin prick — do not amount to fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion.

The meth­ods used in In­done­sia are gen­er­ally less harsh than the most bru­tal forms of FGM found mainly in African and Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, that can go as far as to­tal re­moval of the cli­toris.

The UN, how­ever, dis­agrees with the In­done­sian govern­ment’s stance, clas­si­fy­ing FGM among “harm­ful pro­ce­dures to the fe­male gen­i­talia for non-med­i­cal pur­poses”.

The global body says FGM has no health ben­e­fits and can cause many prob­lems, such as in­fer­til­ity and an in­creased risk of child­birth com­pli­ca­tions. AFP

AFP PIC

Salsa Dja­far cry­ing as a tra­di­tional healer con­ducts a cir­cum­ci­sion in Gorontalo last month.

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