World Lens for Edition 27:
A System is Needed to Protect Women (Experience from the Kangaroo Country)
Female circumcision is still practiced in many countries. Not only in a country like Africa where circumcision is part of the tradition, but also in some developed countries like Australia, the practice rate is still quite high.
The practice of female circumcision is still held by many parents in almost 40 countries in the world. With variety of types, the circumcision is still practiced based on people’s beliefs that it is part of religious teachings in Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other faiths. In fact the Bible or Al Qur’an have never clearly described the practice, although most Muslim believe circumcision is part of their implementations of faith.
In Australia alone, as a multicultural and secular country, female circumcision is still considered sacred by some citizens. Although it was proclaimed by government as illegal, until 2007, 80 to 130 million women in Australia were the victims of the practice (Inzert, June 2007).
According to Martha Teshome, activist of Zonta International, a human rights institution that fights for the girls’ rights, every year more than 2 million girls in Australia are prone to be victims of circumcision practice.
In the Kangaroo country, the protection of girls from circumcision practices is under responsibility of Department of Child Protection and Family Welfare Department, usually under a family planning program. Despite the government’s responsibility, the practice continues. Even surprisingly, incidence numbers of circumcision in Australia is still quite high compared with other countries such as Singapore and Canada.
Martha herself estimated there were around 2 million practices of female circumcision in Australia. Ms. Tewfik from Department of Child Protection in Queensland, said in 2005 alone there were 5000 circumcised women (Ms. Tewfik, The Child Safety Department, 2008). According to Ms. Tewfik, the incidence tends to increase every year in line with the increasing number of imigrants from overseas to Australia.
Female circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still occurring in Australia, especially among immigrants with backgrounds from Somali, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, China and India. This does not mean other Australian girls are safe. They are also likely to be circumcised based on religious beliefs of their family. For some immigrant residents, it is common they continue to carry out traditions and beliefs of female circumcision even though they have moved to Australia.
Traditionally, female circumcision usually happens in girls from age of 6 months to 10 years or even before they get married. Usually those who are circumcised are given features or signs, for example in Chinese Australian community, the girls are given anklets as a sign they have been circumcised.
According to Martha, there once an Australian girl who was taken to Singapore by her parents, to be checked whether she had been circumcised or not. At first, the parents just said, they will take a vacation to Singapore. But once there, they bring the child to a female genital medical check.
Martha asserted, in fact Australian government has a firm law against the circumcision practice, regards it as an illegal act, even if it is done in hospitals. She cited WHO which in 1981 prohibited doctors and health professionals in practicing FGM. She described the practice as part of human rights violation. She said, “… because girls have no choice, the government should ensure the safety of every daughter …”
Ms. Tewfik said that, to protect girls from the practice, it needs the system, one of them is cooperation with the police. If circumcision is found, let the Australian police act. Because female circumcision is considered the same as murder and other criminal acts. Unfortunately the immigrants who believe circumcision is part of their beliefs, they circumcise their daughters outside Australia. For example, if they are from Sudan or Ethiopia, they will bring their daughters to be circumcised in hometown there. After daughter being circumcised they will return to Australia. This overwhelms the Australian government to handle the issue of female circumcision.
The South Australian government has made a reference to prevent the acts. The reference is mainly disseminated in hospitals in South Australia. The reference is used to anyone suspected in committing or resulting female circumcision. This reference was included into Children’s Protection Act 1993 and Criminal Consolidation Act 1935. The amendment of the two laws was only implemented intensively in 1997. The Act is clearly explaining reporting procedure over all acts of violence against children include the act of female circumcision.
The definition used in the 1997 law amendment, circumcision is a practice that injuring, opening and cutting each part of female vital organs. Three types commonly known in medical terms considered as criminal acts are clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation, can be experienced by children as well as adult women.
The 1997 Law Amendment also explains whoever works in child protection, paid or voluntary, must ensure each child is able to stay healthy, prosperous both in physical health and development. If there are indications of neglect and violence against children, including circumcision, anyone is entitled to report to the police and local security authorities. Subsequently the police will report the action as a criminal offense and will be processed in court.
The 1997 Law amendment are also applied in schools. No wonder, not only hospitals become the keys, schools get supervision also for prevention of circumcision.
Finally, it certainly takes a lot of hands to protect children and women from the practice of circumcision. Not only the support of law and supervision, the enforcement of orderly laws is needed to make people aware that female circumcision is a criminal act.