THE VICTIMS OF TORTURE; Brutal Practice of Female Circumcision on Increase in Inner-City Brum

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM ASPINALL

IT is a practice which belongs in a medieval torture chamber.

But female circumcision is on the increase in the region - with 10 per cent of expectant mums at just one maternity hospital being former victims of the barbaric procedure. That is the chilling claim of specialist midwife Alison Byrne, who has worked with hundreds of scarred women over the last decade.

Most are from Africa and were forced to undergo the horrific operation - banned in the UK in the 1980s - while in their home countries.

Yet they are fears that a female circumciser is offering the procedure to families of young girls, right here in Birmingham.

Alison, 41, said: "There is a rumour that I've heard repeated that there's a practising circumciser in Balsall Heath.

"If it was proven, I'd find it extremely shocking and would want the police to do all they could to stop it.

"(If true)... it is most likely to be a woman and they will be carrying out the circumcisions in secret because it's obviously illegal and if you are found guilty you can get 14 years in prison."

Alison set-up the African Well Women Service at the maternity unit of Heartlands Hospital in 2002. Along with colleague Teresa Ball, she realised the urgent need for it after a boom in the city's Somali population.

She said: "When we first started the service only 0.2 per cent of admissions to the maternity unit were from Africa. Now 10 per cent are from African countries where female circumcision is prevalent.

"The majority of women seen at the unit are Somali and 98 to 99 per cent have some type of female genital mutilation.

"It is fair to say that one in 10 of all admissions have undergone female circumcision."

Female circumcision, also known as genital mutilation, is prevalent in many African and some Asian countries.

Alison explained why so many young women were still being subjected to the brutal ritual - often at the hands of older females.

"One of the reasons is cultural rites of passage handed down through the females of the family,'' she said.

"It is women who arrange for this to be performed and the circumcisers are usually post menopausal women.

"There are different categories of female genital mutilation, from Type One to Type Five, and we see all of them in Birmingham.

Thorns "In Africa it is big business and female circumcisers travel from village to village and do groups of seven or eight girls at a time, while they are held down by family members.

"They often use non-sterilised razor blades and even broken glass and in many cases the victims are later sown together with acacia thorns.

"Their legs are then bound together to aid healing and they are taken away from the community until they have healed.

"Approximately one in 10 girls will die from immediate complications from this procedure. In their own countries, without proper medical assistance, there is also a chance of them dying during childbirth."

Birmingham has witnessed an in-flux of immigrants from African countries in recent years, with an estimated 40,000 Somalis now living in Sparkbrook and Small Heath.

Alison hopes to reach out to this often closed community by speaking out on the often taboo subject.

She said: "There needs to be far more awareness about this issue and people need to get real. …