Warning: This post discusses the death of a child and may be distressing for some readers.
Nichola Krey is the Head of Humanitarian Affairs at Save the Children Australia. Here, on International Day of the Girl, she writes about the abomination that is female genital mutilation.
I have been a humanitarian for 15 years and have seen some of the worst violations of human rights you could imagine.
But last month I witnessed the saddest and most distressing thing I have ever seen.
I watched as a 10-year-old girl screamed in pain and slowly died from the effects of tetanus contracted during female genital mutilation.
To set the scene, I was visiting one of Save the Children’s programs in Somalia focused on supporting drought-affected children and their families displaced from their nomadic lives as pastoralists due to a lack of water. These families are living in temporary camps as all their livestock is dead and their livelihoods have collapsed.
On this day, I expected to meet babies and children under five being treated for severe and acute malnutrition at a clinic run by Save the Children at a local hospital. It’s not easy to see a young child or baby on the brink of starvation. So, I mentally braced myself for distressing scenes, but didn’t expect to see the horror of FGM.
Instead, the nurse showing us around took us to a room where she wanted to show us an FGM case that was “complicated”.
Having just visited a maternity ward, I was expecting the complication to be a woman who had to be cut open to give birth and had contracted an infection. There are varying degrees of FGM ranging from a clitorectomy to a full removal of the inner and outer labia, as well as sewing the vulva up, leaving only a small hole – for no medical reason. This means that when a woman menstruates, has sex or gives birth it is an unnecessarily difficult, and sometimes excruciating, process. During labour, a woman needs to be cut open – and then she is sewn back up again after birth.
But what I saw when I walked into the room was not a woman who was suffering complications. And it was not what I had mentally prepared myself to see.
Holly Wainwright speaks with Jade Hameister, the youngest woman to hike the Polar Quest, on our I Don’t Know She Does It Podcast. Post continues after.
Lying on a hospital bed was a 10-year-old girl, writhing in pain and screaming with a look of desperation and disbelief in her young eyes. The pain she was experiencing was excruciating. Suhayba had been circumcised just days before – this involved the full removal of her external genitalia. A female elder in her village had administered the procedure using a dirty instrument and Suhayba had contracted tetanus.
As a mother of a nine-year-old girl, I know how vulnerable and scared children that age can be. And they blindly trust adults to make choices on their behalf. When that trust is violated it is crushing for children.
Suhayba screamed and pleaded for her father to help as tetanus set in, making her body rigid and paralysing her. She was immobilised and screaming to her father “hold me, hold me, hold me!”