Female genital mutilation and its prevention: a challenge for paediatricians.

Eur J Pediatr. 2009 Jan;168(1):27-33. Epub 2008 Apr 25.

Female genital mutilation and its prevention: a challenge for paediatricians.

Jaeger F, Caflisch M, Hohlfeld P.

Service de Pédiatrie, Hôpital de Pourtalès, Rue de la Maladière 45, 2000, Neuchâtel, Switzerland. f.jaeger@gmx.ch


Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as an injury of the external female genitalia for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. FGM is mainly performed in sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa. The western health care systems are confronted with migrants from this cultural background. The aim is to offer information on how to approach this subject. The degree of FGM can vary from excision of the prepuce and clitoris to infibulation. Infections, urinary retention, pain, lesions of neighbouring organs, bleeding, psychological trauma and even death are possible acute complications. The different long-term complications include the risk of reduced fertility and difficulties during labour, which are key arguments against FGM in the migrant community. Paediatricians often have questions on how to approach the subject. With an open, neutral approach and basic knowledge, discussions with parents are constructive. Talking about the newborn, delivery or traditions may be a good starting point. Once they feel accepted, they speak surprisingly openly. FGM is performed out of love for their daughters. We have to be aware of their arguments and fears, but we should also stress the parents’ responsibility in taking a health risk for their daughters. It is important to know the family’s opinion on FGM. Some may need support, especially against community pressure. As FGM is often performed on newborns or at 4-9 years of age, paediatricians should have an active role in the prevention of FGM, especially as they have repeated close contact with those concerned and medical consequences are the main arguments against FGM.

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