Above a young girl facing the knife

HARGEISA — The 30 Somali teenagers — both boys and girls — all agreed: Female genital mutilation is harmful and the practice should be abandoned. But what they really meant, they revealed moments later, is that girls should have their genitalia cut — just not sewn shut.

“It’s our tradition and if the girls are not subjected to suna(cutting) she will not be accepted for marriage,” said Asthma Ibrahim Jabril, 17.

The students, who are part of an afterschool club in Somaliland which the U.N. children’s agency helps fund, discuss issues like child labor, early marriage, and female genital mutilation in a classroom with several large hearts scrawled along the walls.

UNICEF is weaving a delicate campaign to educate communities in Somaliland about the harms of female genital mutilation and to get leaders, who are meeting there this month to debate the practice, to denounce it. Child rights advocates in nearly 30 countries are fighting to reduce the number of girls subjected to the cutting of their genitalia, a practice that goes back thousands of years and that Somali practitioners often link to Islamic requirements.

All 15 girls sitting opposite the boys at Sheik Nuur Primary school have undergone suna_the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. They all said it was the right thing to do.

Female genital mutilation comes in many different forms. The other form known by the Somali teens is sewing the vagina shut until marriage. Everyone agreed that this should be ended.

“I want it to be eradicated. It’s an old tradition,” said Ikram Ismail, a confident 18-year-old in a pink headscarf and a black hijab. “When my mother was young no one could speak about it publicly, but now people understand that it causes a lot of harm so that’s why we talk about it.”

Female genital mutilation can cause severe bleeding and problems with urination, cysts, infections, infertility and complications with childbirth, including an increased risk of newborn death. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 African and Middle Eastern countries, the World Health Organization says.

In Somalia, the cultural expectation for girls to undergo genital mutilation comes down to sex and marriage. Men expect to marry a virgin. If a girl has not undergone female genital mutilation, she is considered unclean.

“It’s that she is not pure,” said Charity Kinya Koronya, a child protection officer for UNICEF who was raised in a community in Kenya where young girls undergo genital mutilation. Her father would not allow the procedure to be done on her.

“You are stitched and not opened up until the day of your marriage,” Koronya continued. “They say someone who is open, anyone can go in.”

Last month about 60 religious and civic leaders in the capital of Somaliland — a semi-autonomous region in northern Somalia that has remained largely peaceful during Somalia’s decades of conflict — attended a daylong seminar and debate on female genital mutilation.

Sheik Khalil Abdulai Ahmed, the government minister of religious affairs, told the room that female genital mutilation can lead to death, pain and mental issues. Amina Mohamed Jirde, the wife of Somaliland’s president, pleaded with the group to stop genital mutilation. “This practice is not good for the girl,” Jirde said. “It is good for you to marry all the girls without discrimination.”

Officials with UNICEF tried to underscore that they do not believe female genital mutilation is required by Islam, though it is not strictly practiced by Muslims. Haydar Nasser, a UNICEF official who is Iraqi by birth but now a Canadian citizen, told the leaders that they were following a custom first practiced by the Egyptians some 6,000 years ago, long before Islam was founded.

“So the question to you to discuss today is why as a Muslim practice do you employ a pharaoh practice, pharaohs who went to hell because they are kaffirs,” he said, using the Arabic word for someone who doesn’t believe in Islam.

Islam’s holy book, he continued, says that human beings are created perfectly. “So if a human is in a perfect way, why do we practice something that” alters the body, he said.

At a small community center made of metal sheeting in one of Hargeisa’s lower income communities, two dozen women and girls, who have been in an education program run by aid group Tostan, and supported by UNICEF, spoke about their views on the practice.

Amran Mohamud, 40, spent 15 years cutting girls. She remembers the girls who wouldn’t stop bleeding. She remembers the infections that set in. After she began attending Tostan classes four years ago, she abandoned the trade, a profession she learned from her mother that paid between $30 and $50 per procedure.

Mohamud carried out the cutting procedure on her oldest daughter. But her granddaughters will not have it done. Mohamud said even her mother is against the practice now.

“I reminded her of the problems we’ve seen,” Mohamud said.

An imam from the small community in Hargeisa, Mohamed Said Mahmood, 54, said the world is changing. “There are men willing to get married to uncut girls,” he said, while acknowledging not all men his age back his viewpoint.

At the end of the daylong meeting that UNICEF had hoped would end in a decision to abandon female genital mutilation, the religious leaders — including the minister of religious affairs — say they cannot agree to abandon suna. The practice of female genital cutting will continue.

By Associated Press



  1. Please stop it, stop it, stop it… It is not suna and it is a barbaric practice that is very harmful to the girls. The government should ban it and educate the people.

    I will definitely wont do it to my girls and I hope all the parents will do the same.

    • What Suldan Deria, my grand great in-laws on both sides of my mom and dad says it all.

  2. Caado la gooyaa cadho ayay leedahay. Qodob la'aantu waa albaab qafilkii laga saaray. Waar yaynaan cadadeenii ka tegin.

    • So you think Allah wants little children mutilated and will go mad if we stop doing it? If God wanted different design why didnt he do it instead of subjecting unsterlised razor blades on trusting little children?

      • Waar hayna dhaqan guurinina. Maahmadan yuhuudi may samayn ee waa maah maah sax ah oo dhaqankeeni ah Caado la gooyaa cadho Allay leedahay. Albaankii furan cid waliba wayska soo gelaysaa

  3. It is a horrible culture and needs to be abolished. One can lose blood and easily expire.. No one should go through this trouble experience. If not mistaken, the sharia is to slightly pinch it. The local tribal chiefs and the government.must put pressure to educate people in order to stop this barbaric act .

  4. What gets you is women who are doing to young girls this horrible thing are justifying their actions men's needs. " men would not marry uncut girls", how does that work? do we kill people because of it is benefit of others ? I do not think so, it is time we all men and women against and stop this terrible practice. Also we should tell girls there is not that much difference cutting part of your body and cutting it and closing it, hope we all find a way to get rid off FGM.

  5. Please, please do not show this kind of a picture, It is a sicking picture. You can do it under the carpet.And abolish this culture, it is not big deal.

  6. Disgusting! Absolutely heartbreaking. If your god wanted it cut he would have made girls that way. Its a practice to control womens enjoyment of sex and also the sowing up is a barbaric way of making sure that insecure men dont get their feelings hurt.

    In both cases there is no concern for the girls mental and physical well being, imagine if men had the tip of their you know what cut off, I am sure they would be in an up roar but let it be women and its all good smdh tragic

    • The tip of their you know what does get cut off. Another brutality copied from the ancient Jews. It is a mutilation of innocent children and must stop. Ironically both the Quran and the Bib le and Torajh say similair things about how God Man Perfect. So why mess with God's design then?

  7. What a race of brutal savages we are. But the most intriguing thing about this is that this is purely women on women brutality when usually it is men being ghastly to women.

    How do they know we wont mary 'uncut' girls? I would give everything to ..enjoy ther company of a natural Somali woman. To this I have not..seen one.

    • It is ironic is n't it ? Yes women are brutal on young girls, who can not make decision of their own at the time, but remember women are doing this horrific act, because of men! I wonder how Somali men feel about this? bad things are happening to young girls on their sake!

      • Layla most men prefer natural women"uncut" so i don't know why women alway say thats what we like no i don't. It's 'islaamaha's fault'.

  8. Sheikh Khalila is a salafi which means he follows Saudi culture instead of Somaliland one. So if it is such sunnah, howcome Saudis dont do it to their girls?

  9. This culture is an Islamic.There is no where in holy Kuran, where it state female cutting is a suna. This is a barbaric belief and should be stopped Immediately.

  10. The tip by that I mean the actual head of the you know what, not the foreskin so please get it right. Removing the foreskin and removing a vital organ like the clitoris is not something you can compare.

  11. Female mutilations should be illegal in somaliland…they are already illegal in the rest of Somalia