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Escaping Female Genital Mutilation

Written by: Christian Albers

Oumou Toure from Guinea did not want her two year old daughter Fanta to suffer the same treatment she experienced herself at the age of 19: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC). For several months she was facing deportation from Canada to her home country Guinea. But finally in July 2007 she and her daughter were granted permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Protecting women from FGM is still not seen as self evident in many Western countries including Canada. It took Toure three times to finally get granted permanent residence. Nevertheless, Oumou is one of a growing number of women seeking asylum in Western countries to escape FGM. And while most Western countries, including the US, Canada, Belgium, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Germany and Italy regard FGM as criminal act, there is also an increasing number of states that regard FGM as reason for granting refugee status.

In the United States, FGM is regarded as a reason for granting asylum since 1996 when the Board of Immigration Appeals granted asylum for Fauziya Kassindja, a teenager from Togo. But the case of Oumou Toure in Canada shows, there is a gap between claim and reality. As in Guinea (like in many other countries) FGM is formally outlawed it had to be proven to the Canadian authorities that the law is actually not enforced. 99 % of girls and women between the age of 15 and 49 in Guinea had to undergo the treatment of FGM.

In a recently issued report by the Secretary General of the United Nations (access below), it is stated that although in many countries such as Ghana, Uganda, Morocco and Eritrea FGM is officially criminalized “enforcement of these laws remains a major challenge as the practice continues to be seen as an issue at the private or family level that should not be brought into the public domain for discussion and action.”

Report of the Secretary General - Ending
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