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 (Pokot girls run from their hut and make their way to a place where they will take off their clothes and wash during their circumcision ceremony)

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(A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls. Practitioners use anything from broken glass to scissors)

Even though the brutal practice of FGM is now illegal in the country in many African tribes, traditions are more important than laws and circumcision is considered a rite of passage that marks their transition into womanhood so they can marry.

Reuter’s photographer Siegfried Modola captured the ceremony in rural Kenya for four teenage girls of the Pokot tribe, in Baringo County.

Draped in animal skin and covered in white paint, the girls squat over large stones in the remote village after being circumcised – a life-threatening custom banned in the country three years ago.

More than a quarter of Kenyan women have undergone the ordeal, despite government efforts to end the practice in the East African country.

‘It’s a tradition that has been happening forever,’ the father of one of the girls, who asked not to be named fearing reprisal from the authorities, told Reuters from the isolated Pokot settlement some 80km from the town of Marigat.

‘The girls are circumcised to get married. It’s a girl’s transition into womanhood,’ he said.

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(Naked: Draped in animal skins, the Pokot girls sit naked on rocks before village elders perform the ritual)

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It’s one of the most political areas of women’s health. Worldwide it’s estimated that well over 120 million women have been subjected to it. Supporters of the practice say it’s an important part of cultural and religious life, and some compare it to the practice of male circumcision that is more widely accepted in the Western world, but opponents say that not only is it potentially life-threatening – it’s also an extreme form of oppression of women.

In some countries where it’s more widely practiced it’s officially illegal – those who persist in the practice in Senegal will now face a prison term of between one and five years, for example. But it’s still carried out quietly, within the family and out of sight of officials.

Female circumcision is mainly carried out in western and southern Asia, the Middle East and large areas of Africa. It’s also known to take place among immigrant communities in the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Britain, where it’s illegal. In total it’s estimated that as many as two million girls a year are FGM is practiced contrary to the teachings of Islam and is prohibited in the UK and most EU-countries. Many girls could be saved from their cruel fate, if there was more awareness among the community of the consequences of FGM. Let us make this possible by the joint work of FORWARD, MCB and religious leaders to build awareness about the negative consequences of FGM in the communities. We will continue to welcome any and every opportunity to raise our voices and to campaign against this illicit practice subjected to genital mutilation.

FGM is not an Islamic requirement. There is no reference to it in the holy Qur’an that states girls must be circumcised. Nor is there any authentic reference to this in the Sunnah, the sayings or traditions of our prophet. FGM is bringing the religion of Islam into disrepute.

There are three main types of circumcision:

The removal of the tip of the clitoris
Total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia
The removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood – a process known as infibulations
So drastic is the mutilation involved in the latter operation that young brides have to be cut open to allow penetration on their wedding night and are customarily sewn up afterwards.

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:

  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
  • cysts;
  • infertility;
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
  • The need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.

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