In Pictures : The Journey Through Female Circumcision

Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser with a blade or razor, with or without anaesthesia, FGM is concentrated in 27 countries in Africa, as well as in Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan, and practised to a lesser extent elsewhere in Asia and among diaspora communities around the world. The age at which it is conducted varies from days after birth to puberty; in half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five.

The procedures differ according to the ethnic group. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoris, and in the most severe form (known as infubulation) removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva; in this last procedure, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, and the vagina is opened for intercourse and childbirth. Health effects depend on the procedure, but can include recurrent infections, chronic pain, cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth and fatal bleeding. There are no known health benefits. The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics. It is initiated and usually carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour, and who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion. Over 125 million women and girls have experienced FGM in the 29 countries in which it is concentrated. Over eight million have been infibulated, a practice found largely in Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.

FGM has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, but the laws are poorly enforced. There have been international efforts since the 1970s to persuade practitioners to abandon it, and in 2012 the United Nations General Assembly, recognizing FGM as a human-rights violation, voted unanimously to intensify those efforts. The opposition is not without its critics, particularly among anthropologists.

Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola captured this ceremony in rural Kenya for four teenage girls of the Pokot tribe, in Baringo County. The pictures show frightened girls lined up before villagers in Kenya to be circumcised – even though the brutal practice is now illegal in the country.

Tearful: One of the young girls, covered in an animal skin, cries after being circumcised. The practice was outlawed three years ago
Four young Pokot girls
Frightened: Four young Pokot girls stand outside one of the girl’s homes just before the beginning of their circumcision ceremony
Naked Pokot Girls
Naked: Draped in animal skins, the Pokot girls sit naked on rocks before village elders perform the ritual
Pokot Girl Bleed
A Pokot girl bleeds onto a rock after being circumcised in a tribal ritual. In addition to excruciating pain, can cause haemorrhage, shock and complications in childbirth
Pokot Girl Smeared
Ceremony: After the procedure, a Pokot girl is smeared with white paint to show she has undergone the rite of passage
Pokot Girl Undergoing Mutilation
A Pokot woman performs a circumcision on a girl in a village. Although the government has banned it, the practice is rife in rural communities