In Spain, thousands of African immigrant girls are facing the danger of becoming victims of female genital mutilation, an ancestral practice that sub-Saharan immigrants have brought with them and which several non-governmental organizations and public agencies are fighting to eradicate.
Senegalese, Malian and Nigerian girls, among others, are the ones whose traditions include removing the clitoris and vaginal labia as part of the ritualistic passage to adulthood, to maintain good hygiene, keep them chaste and desirable to males, according to their beliefs.
Monday is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, a practice internationally recognized as a human rights violation.
According to figures from the World Health Organization, or WHO, every year 5 million girls suffer the partial removal of their external genitals.
Although no official figures exist for Spain, experts at Barcelona’s Autonomous University calculate that some 10,000 girls are at risk of genital mutilation, all of them originally from one of 27 countries in the world - most of them in the sub-Saharan region - where the practice is widespread.
“When you see a genital mutilation for the first time, you remain in a state of shock,” said Catalonian assistant regional police inspector Rosa Negre, who is heading the operation to eradicate the practice in the northeastern region of Spain.
In charge of the Citizens Attention Unit in Gerona, Negre participated in the drafting of a pioneer action plan coordinating the work of educators and health, police and judicial personnel to protect girls in Spain.
“We’re all devoted to the girls and paying close attention to their progress - doctors, nurses, teachers - insofar as when we suspect a change, we act,” Negre said regarding the functioning of the program in which last year judicial proceedings were opened against 25 families in Gerona and the possibility of genital mutilation for 36 girls was prevented.
“Threatening (the parents) with the law and jail doesn’t work. You have to convince the mothers and fathers that genital mutilation is bad for the health of their daughters, that it’s an attack on their integrity and that it has deep physical and psychological consequences,” Negre said.
Negre has not only conducted seminars, conferences and discussions, but she has also personally visited the homes of immigrants and gone on vacation with them to their countries of origin along with their daughters.
She urges them to sign a document in which they commit themselves to ensuring that their daughter will return to Spain intact and warning them that the Spanish Criminal Code establishes penalties of between six and 12 years in prison for people found guilty of performing, consenting to or facilitating genital mutilation, even if it is performed outside Spain.
Proof of that is the sentence of six years in prison the Teruel court imposed last November on the father of a girl who was subjected to genital mutilation at the age of eight months in Gambia, a country in which 80 percent of girls are subjected to the practice.