A tragic story about FGM and girls in Djibouti
Madame Safia Elmi, head of the Maternity Without Risk program tells us about the danger of female genital mutilation with the example of a young girl’s dramatic story in Djibouti.
On 17 June 2002 at 12:45 A.M., Mrs Amina admitted her 8-year-old daughter to hospital emergency services because of severe blood loss from a gaping wound in the young girl’s vulva. The child was completely bloodless with all the signs of acute anaemia. Because of the urgency of the situation, the young girl was immediately placed under the care of physicians who attempted to stop the blood flow and began a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts undertaken to save the child, she died two hours after being admitted to the hospital. Here’s how the tragedy began for mother and daughter. On the morning of 16th June at 6:00 A.M., this mother placed her 8-year-old daughter, a lively little girl brimming with health, joy and vitality, into the hands of a traditional excision practitioner from a disreputable area of the city.
This woman’s only tool for the FGM procedure was a well-used half of a razor blade, and the only painkillers she provided were sugar and powdered myrrh (an herb). After a short reading from the Koran to drive away evil spirits, one of the girl’s aunts was called upon to hold her firmly. Immobilized, she was placed on a stool with her legs spread apart. Other female relations and neighbors helped the aunt to ensure the child was unable to move. Despite the young girl’s cries and supplications, the practitioner began her work, cutting away all the external genital organs—labia minora, clitoris and labia majora. Next, she sprinkled the wound with a mixture of sugar and myrrh, which was meant to stop the bleeding, and then used a scrap of cloth to tie the child’s legs together in order to bring the two open parts of the wound together to heal. She told the mother that the girl would be purified by the loss of her "impure blood''. The razor blader is one of the instrument used in the procedures of female genital mutilation. The mother explained that her daughter lost consciousness during the procedure and that when she regained consciousness shortly afterward, she screamed with pain continuously. The child continued to bleed profusely all that day and evening, but because of what the practitioner had told the mother, she simply continued to clean up the blood. She did not allow the child to drink anything because the practitioner had told her that the necessity of urination would risk reopening the wound. At 9:30 P.M., when the child’s father came home from his khat-party and saw how weak his daughter had become, he decided to take her to the hospital, where despite all the care she was given, she died two hours after admission. Following this incident the chief physician of the maternity department contacted the head of the Fight against FGM program to tell the story. But first, he explained to the young girl’s parents that her needless death was caused by this practice and that if it had not been done, their daughter would still be alive. This child’s parents have responded to their personal tragedy by joining the Maternity without Risk (MSR) program to help work toward the elimination of this practice.
This story is not exceptional in our area. It has happened in 2002 but the prevalence of FGM is still high in Djibouti affecting 98% of women aged 15 to 49 years. Each Djiboutian young girl is exposed to this danger despite efforts from government and communities trying to put an end to this practice. This situation is a perfect illustration of the gravity of female genital mutilation in our country. When parents take their daughters to the practitioner to undergo the procedure, they don’t intend to harm their loves ones but simply they are respecting a tradition. Parents consider that this is one of the things they must do to raise their daughters and prepare them for the future. The life of this girl was cut short but we have to make sure not to allow another life wasted. The international community and the government of Djibouti are committed to educate people on theirs rights and responsibilities in order to make a collective choice toward abandonment of FGM. The parents of this girl realized too late that FGM wasn’t a good thing for her. Let’s not allow such a tragedy to repeat itself. For further details contact Fathia Omar UNICEF Djibouti firstname.lastname@example.org