FGM in Indonesia hits alarming level
Anggi M. Lubis and Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
Half of girls under 11 years old in Indonesia are circumcised, according to the latest finding by UNICEF, raising awareness and calls for bans on female genital mutilation (FGM) practices in the world's most populous Muslim majority country.
It is the first time the global report has included Indonesia on the list, but the country ' combined with Egypt and Ethiopia ' accounts for half of 200 million girls and women in 30 countries that have undergone FGM, the study reveals.
The inclusion of Indonesia on the list, published on Friday, has raised the tally from 130 million circumcised girls and women in 29 countries estimated in 2014, albeit the study claimed that the prevalence of FGM has fallen significantly.
According to the data, 14-year-old girls and below represent 44 million of those who have been cut, and Indonesia is among the three countries with the highest prevalence of FGM among this age group, along with Gambia and Mauritania.
UNICEF Indonesia spokeswoman Kinanti Pinta Karana said the survey indicated that 13.4 million Indonesian girls aged 11 and below might have undergone FGM.
She said the government's involvement in the global report was a good sign of increasing awareness of the practice, which is illegal and deemed a violation of human rights in several countries.
'This is a significant step toward eradicating the practice because data collection is critical to increase understanding of FGM and what leads to its decline or vice versa,' she said.
UNICEF data said prevalence of FGM in Indonesia was generally high in every province, with only Papua, East Nusa Tenggara and Bali recording one-digit percentages of circumcised girls in their respective populations. The practice is common in Jakarta, which is among the 10 provinces with the highest percentage of circumcised girls aged 11 and below, at 68.1 percent.
FGM in Indonesia is strongly related to culture and religion. In Gorontalo, girls are circumcised before their third birthday in a traditional ceremony called mongubingu, as proof of their compliance to Islam.
Indonesian authorities tried to ban FGM 10 years ago, but the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa saying that female circumcision was part of religious practice.
In response, the Health Ministry softened its stance, issuing regulations that said the practice should only be done by medical professionals in a noninvasive way that did not injure girls and women. However, in 2013, the ministry revoked its regulations on female circumcision.
The ministry's director general of mother and child health and nutrition supervision, Anung Sugihantono, said the government did not acknowledge female genital mutilation as a medical practice.
The reasoning behind it is that the government acknowledges female circumcision only as a part of Indonesian culture, according to him. The government's definition of female circumcision was 'an act of scratching the skin that covers the front of the clitoris without injuring the clitoris'.
National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) vice chairwoman Budi Wahyuni said her commission saw the practice as sexual violence toward children and called on the government to be more consistent in regulating FGM.
Budi said they could limit the ability to orgasm, thus it was vital for individuals to gain a thorough understanding of genital cutting before undergoing a procedure.
'With no sanctions and no visible harms, parents will opt to circumcise their daughters so that they can grow up as a sholihah [pious woman],' she explained.
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