'Sudan tradition will scar women for life'

October 4, 2002

Omdurman Islamic University in Sudan is planning to train birth attendants to carry out female circumcision - a practice that is illegal in Sudanese and international law.

Some 89 per cent of married women in North Sudan undergo a procedure that campaigners say leaves many physically and psychologically scarred for life.

The Sudanese Women's Rights Group claims that the university recently established a centre for training traditional birth attendants to perform the procedure and is planning a national network of such training centres.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) was almost unknown in the non-Muslim south, which has been fighting against the north for nearly 20 years, but campaigners claim the incidence of FGM is increasing in government-controlled areas.

In May, a workshop was organised by the ministry of religious affairs in collaboration with OIU's female student centre. The workshop attracted mainly government officials and supporters. It recommended legalisation of female circumcision, raising awareness about its importance in society and supported the efforts of the female student centre to set up centres throughout the country.

The SWRG expressed "grave concern" at the government's apparent intention to legalise female circumcision contrary to an array of United Nations declarations and conventions.

The vice-chancellor attempted to distance the university from the proceedings: "The OIU did not participate as an institution and has no link with the workshop's recommendations. FGM is not part of our curriculum."

Despite a national strategy for the abolition of FGM being drawn up by the health ministry, official support for the campaign has been lukewarm.

Unicef's Samira Ahmed said: "The strategy is fine. The problem is in the implementation."

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