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Female circumcision and child mortality in urban Somalia.

Genus. 1991 Jul-Dec;47(3-4):203-23.

Female circumcision and child mortality in urban Somalia.

Abstract

In Somalia, a demographer analyzed urban data obtained from the Family Health Survey to examine the effect female circumcision has on child mortality and the mechanism of that effect. Girls undergo female circumcision between 5-12 years old in Somalia. Since sunni circumcision (removal of the clitoral prepuce and tip of the clitoris) and clitoridectomy (removal of the entire clitoris) did not affect child mortality, he used them as the reference group. Infibulation (entire removal of the clitoris and of the labia minora and majora with the remains of the labia majora being sewn together allowing only a small opening for passage of urine) did affect child mortality. Female children who underwent infibulation and whose mothers most likely also underwent infibulation experienced higher mortality (13-72%) than those from other circumcised mothers. Female mortality exceeded male mortality indicating possible son preference. Mothers with clitoridectomy or infibulation had significantly higher infant mortality than those with sunni circumcision with the strongest effects during the neonatal period (95% and 42% higher mortality, respectively; p=.01). The effect of female circumcision on child mortality decreased with increased child’s age. This higher than expected mortality among women with clitoridectomy may have been because women with infibulation had more stillbirths which were not counted as births. The exposed vagina of clitoridectomized women is more likely to be infected resulting in high risk of stillbirths and premature births than the closed vagina of infibulated women. The researcher suggested that the policies promoting education and consciousness raising may eventually eradicate female circumcision. This longterm campaign should use mass media, senior women of high status, and respected religious leaders. Legislation prohibiting this practice would only drive it underground under unsanitary conditions. Demographers should no longer ignore female circumcision’s effect on mortality and other demographic variables.

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