Singapore Country comes under pressure over female genital cutting of babies

This is despite growing global condemnation of the practice which world leaders have pledged to eradicate.

  • Published:
Students assemble before class at the Madrasah Al Maarif Al Islamiah in Singapore February 21, 2006. play

Students assemble before class at the Madrasah Al Maarif Al Islamiah in Singapore February 21, 2006.

(Reuters)
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Medical clinics in Singapore are carrying out female genital cutting on babies, according to people with first-hand experience of the procedure.

This is despite growing global condemnation of the practice which world leaders have pledged to eradicate.

The ancient ritual - more commonly associated with rural communities in a swathe of African countries - is observed by most Muslim Malays in Singapore where it is legal but largely hidden, said Filzah Sumartono of women's rights group AWARE.

Worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women are believed to have undergone female genital cutting or mutilation (FGM), according to United Nations figures.

But its existence in Singapore, a wealthy island state which prides itself on being a modern, cosmopolitan city with high levels of education, shows the challenge of tackling a practice rooted in culture, tradition and a desire to belong.

Sumartono said it was too early to press for a ban in Singapore although many countries have outlawed FGM. She said they first needed to create more awareness and debate around the practice and galvanise public support for ending it.

"In my own circle of friends who are Malay and Muslim, 100 percent have been cut," said Sumartono, who was cut herself at one month old.

"But it is very hidden. Whenever I bring up the subject with non-Malay they're shocked and can't believe it happens in Singapore."

The health ministry did not comment despite several requests.

Sumartono said the practice - known locally as sunat perempuan - was usually done before the age of two and may involve cutting the tip of the clitoris or making a small nick.

"Even within the community we don't discuss this much," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Singapore.

"If a male baby gets circumcised there is this big celebration and prayer ritual, but if it is a female baby it's quite quiet. It's usually only the mother or grandmother making the decision. Sometimes the father doesn't even know."

She said cutting was usually done by medical professionals.

"We know five or six clinics offer the procedure - at around 20-35 Singapore dollars ($15-$26)," she added. "There's no legislation. It's done openly. You can just call up to make an appointment."

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