Our research found girls are presenting to paediatricians in Australia with female genital mutilation, but misconceptions about the practice are common and doctors want more information on how to manage this illegal practice.
Health professionals, lawyers, teachers, child protection authorities and communities at risk must be better informed. They must also work together to help prevent female genital mutilation, which contravenes declarations including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
What did we find?
We found health professionals worldwide are poorly informed about female genital mutilation: why it is performed, and its relationship to culture rather than religion.
Our survey of Australian paediatricians, for instance, found 10% had ever seen a child with female genital mutilation; few knew the procedure was done outside Africa; few routinely asked about or examined girls for female genital mutilation; or understood the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification types. Few had read local policy on how to manage girls presenting with female genital mutilation. Most had no relevant training and requested educational resources.
Some paediatricians had been asked to perform female genital mutilation, or for information about who would perform it.
Of the girls with female genital mutilation who Australian paediatricians had seen, all were from immigrant families, mostly from Africa, and seen in refugee clinics. Two children had female genital mutilation performed in Australia. One child born in Australia was taken to Indonesia for the procedure, a country where as many as 49% of girls under the age of 14 years have had female genital mutilation.
Watch: What you need to know about FGM in Australia. (Post continues after video.)
An ancient, global cultural practice
Female genital mutilation is an ancient cultural practice, entrenched in some societies. It is often wrongly thought to be dictated by religion, yet is contained in the scriptures of none. Traditionally, female genital mutilation is practised in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.