BIG DEBATE OVER FEMALE CIRCUMCISION IN INDONESIA
Practice continues due to superstition
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
Salsa Djafar crying as a traditional healer conducts a circumcision in Gorontalo last month.