Female circumcision or clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris) is a form of genital mutilation that is practised mostly in Islamic countries in East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Last week, on the same day that nine Muslims were sentenced in Denmark for murdering a female family member in a so-called “honour killing,” a court in Göteborg in neighbouring Sweden, sentenced a 41-year old Swedish citizen, Ali Elmi Hayow, to four years’ imprisonment for the genital mutilation of his daughter. He also has to pay her 346,000 Swedish kronor (€37,300; $46,000; £26,000) in damages.
This is the first conviction in Sweden since the country prohibited clitoridectomy in 1982. In 1999 Sweden also outlawed taking children abroad for the mutilation. The maximum penalty for female genital mutilation (FGM) is ten years’ imprisonment. Hayow, a Somali immigrant, had his daughter, his eldest child, mutilated in Somalia.
After divorcing his wife in 2001, he took the two eldest of his four children – the girl and her younger brother – with him to his country of origin without his ex-wife's consent. The children were not allowed to leave Somalia. According to the girl, who is 13 years old today, her father had decided to marry her to a 20-year old man. The clitoridectomy took place in January 2005 at their home in Mogadishu. The clitoris was removed with a razor blade, while her father kept firm hold of the girl. The painful operation was performed without anaesthetics. Last year the girl escaped and, with the help of a journalist, managed to reach the Swedish embassy in Ethiopia. She has meanwhile been reunited with her mother, who lives in London.
Hayow was arrested in Sweden last March. He says he did not know his daughter had been mutilated until she took him to court for it. He claims the clitoridectomy was performed in Sweden in 1997 at the iniative of his ex-wife. The court in Göteborg dismissed this story.
An estimated 130 million women worldwide are believed to have undergone clitoridectomy. According to the World Health Organisation clitoridectomy is performed on some 8,000 girls and women each day, or some 3 million each year. It can result in infection and, in some cases, death. A well-known victim of clitoridectomy is the former Dutch politician of Somali origin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.