HRW urges Iraq Kurds to ban female circumcision

HRW urges Iraq Kurds to ban female circumcision New York: Human Rights Watch called on Iraqi Kurdish authorities on Wednesday to implement proposals to outlaw female circumcision in the face of growing evidence of the extent of the physically and emotionally damaging practice.

In a 73-page report entitled: "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan," the New York-based watchdog recorded the experiences of 31 girls and women in four villages in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

"I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls," a 17-year-old student called Gola from the village of Plangan told the watchdog.

"We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something," she said.

"They did it one by one with no anaesthetics... I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate."

The watchdog said that while there were no official figures on the prevalence of the practice in Iraqi Kurdistan, research conducted by local organisations indicated it was widespread and affected a significant number of girls and women.

"Female genital mutilation violates women's and children's rights, including their rights to life, health and bodily integrity," said the watchdog's Middle East women's rights researcher, Nadya Khalife.

HRW noted that the regional government had taken action against other forms of abuse against women, including domestic violence and so-called honour killings, but had failed to deliver on proposals to tackle female circumcision.

A 2007 regional justice ministry decree ordering the arrest and punishment of practitioners appeared never to have been implemented, and a proposed 2008 bill to outlaw the practice had never got beyond a preliminary vote of support in the regional parliament.

In early 2009, the regional health ministry drew up a strategy for eliminating the practice but later withdrew its support with the result that a public awareness campaign was "inexplicably delayed", the watchdog said.

"It's time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won't go away on its own," Khalife said.

Female circumcision has traditionally been practised in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and parts of east Africa. It has been outlawed in a number of countries, most recently Uganda.