Health Official Claims Circumcision Guidelines Prevent Female Mutilation
The Health Ministry has spoken out against criticism by women’s rights activists and health experts of a ministerial guideline on female circumcision, saying the instruction was issued specifically to combat genital mutilation.
Ministry spokeswoman Murti Utami said that many families, especially in rural areas, still believed in the importance of circumcising female babies for religious reasons.
“I would like to stress that female circumcision is not genital mutilation, which is indeed dangerous. They are two things that are very different,” she said on Friday.
In June, community organizations spoke out in a letter to the government, opposing the ministerial instruction, which directs health professionals not to cut a girl’s genitals but to “scrape the skin covering the clitoris, without injuring the clitoris.”
Medical experts also spoke out against the ministry’s move. “This will give doctors a new motivation to circumcise [girls] because now they can say the Ministry of Health approves of this, and the Indonesian Council of Ulema [MUI] approves of it,” said Jurnalis Uddin, a doctor and lecturer at Yarsi University in Jakarta.
On Friday, Murti said the ministerial instruction, which was issued in June, governed procedures for female circumcision in cases where it is deemed necessary by families. It did not constitute government support for the practice, she claimed.
“The minister wants to protect girls from genital mutilation,” she said.
Murti added that the guidelines provided directions on performing the procedure properly and safely and required that circumcision must only be carried out with parental consent. Furthermore, parents must be given information beforehand on pros and cons of the procedure.
Circumcision is typically done at birth, or before a girl reaches the age of 5. Traditionally, the procedure was mostly symbolic, with a small cut made on the clitoris, or by rubbing it with tumeric root..
However, Uddin said he had found that when medical practitioners performed the procedure, there was a trend toward more extensive cutting of the clitoris.