Somalia sees 'massive' increase in FGM amid coronavirus lockdown

Somalia sees 'massive' increase in FGM amid coronavirus lockdown
As many stay at home to stay safe from coronavirus, girls are now at increased risk of harm amid a reported surge in FGM cases.
2 min read
Somalia has the world's highest FGM rate [Getty/ Archive]
Somalia has seen a huge increase in cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) as many stay at home under measures imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, a charity said on Monday.

UK-based charity Plan International said the coronavirus pandemic was hugely undermining efforts to eradicate the practice in Somalia, where an estimated 98 percent of women have undergone the procedure.

"We've seen a massive increase in recent weeks," said Sadia Allin, Plan International's head of mission in Somalia. "We want the government to ensure FGM is included in all Covid-19 responses."

Allin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that medical workers across the east African country have also reported a surge in requests for for daughters to be cut while they remain at home. She added that families are rushing to have their daughters cut while schools are closed to allow them the weeks to heal at home.

The increase in FGM has also been exacerbated by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, which is causing cutters to go out looking for more work. 

"The cutters have been knocking on doors, including mine, asking if there are young girls they can cut. I was so shocked," said Allin.

Classified as a form of torture by the United Nations, the centuries-old practice is wrongly but generally believed to preserve a woman's chastity.

The procedure usually involves removing the labia, but can also involve cutting the clitoris or sewing up the vaginal opening - a process called infibulation. FGM can cause life-long health problems, including bleeding, cysts, repeated infections and issues urinating.

In Somalia, girls are often infibulated, however new data shows that families are now choosing less sever forms of FGM. According the government's Health and Demographic Survey 2020, 46 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds having been infibulated compared to more than 80 percent of their mothers.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warns that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to an extra two million girls being around the world in the next decade.

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