A 10-year-old girl has died after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia, the first confirmed death in years in a country where complications from the procedure are usually denied, activists claim.
According to anti-FGM campaigners familiar with the case, Deeqa Dahir Nuur was taken on 14 July to a traditional cutter in the remote village of Olol, roughly 65km from Dhusmareb, in central Galmudug state.
The operation severed a vein, and when the family were unable to stem the bleeding two days later, the girl was taken to Dhusmareb hospital, where she haemorrhaged to death, said activist Hawa Aden Mohamed of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development.
The Galmudug state minister for women’s affairs visited the family in hospital after the incident to offer condolences and explain the risk of death in FGM operations.
But justice for their daughter’s death is unlikely. “The woman who performed the operation has not been arrested, but even if she was, there is no law that would ensure she is punished for the act,” said Mohamed.
“It is difficult to estimate the number of girls who die due to FGM per month or per day because they are [sworn] to secrecy, particularly in rural areas. We only get to hear of the few cases of those bold enough to seek medical treatment in towns. But from the stories we do hear, they could be in their dozens.”
Nuur’s death is the most high profile confirmed in Somalia, where 98% of women and girls are cut, the highest percentage anywhere in the world. Activists hope the publicity surrounding her death may help debunk myths in Somalia that FGM is safe.
“It is really important that this is a confirmed case, as pro-FGM lobbyists sometimes put forward the nonsensical view that it is not harmful,” said Brendan Wynne, of Donor Direct Action, an international women’s organisation which runs a fund for frontline FGM activists.
“This is completely untrue. It often has lifelong medical and psychological consequences – and, as we have seen, [can lead to] death. We have no more time for any debate on the harms of FGM and this case, like many others, proves that.”
FGM in Somalia is constitutionally illegal, but pressure from conservative and religious groups prevents lawmakers from passing legislation to punish offenders.
The vast majority of girls in Somalia undergo FGM between the ages of five and nine, according to Unicef. Nearly two-thirds endure infibulation, the most severe form of the procedure. This involves narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia. A small hole is left through which the girl can pass urine or menstrual fluid.
Globally, the most severe form of FGM is thought to affect some 130 million women and girls, most of whom are cut by untrained midwives or healers using unsanitary tools ranging from knives and razors to broken glass.
Campaigners in Somalia use education programmes to teach women and girls about the consequences of FGM and their options to fight against the tradition.
“We know that this is a practice that is entrenched in traditional myths, which can only be effectively challenged through knowledge,” said Mohamed, whose organisation runs classes on gender-based violence and child rights.
“Through education we get to sensitise women and girls [towards] the health risks and human rights violations of FGM. We also inform them that they do not have to conform to earn respect and value in society.
“Unfortunately, most of those coming into our programme have already undergone the practice. But we hope that with such knowledge they can then make informed decisions when eventually they become parents not to subject their daughters to the horrors of this practice.”