Swedish police investigate female circumcision

News  Agence France-Presse. Tuesday, 9 July 2002.

STOCKHOLM, July 9 (AFP) - Swedish police are investigating four cases of possible female circumcision that could lead to the first indictments since the practice was banned in Sweden 20 years ago, Swedish Radio said Tuesday.

A prosecutor has been appointed to investigate the four cases in the southwestern city of Gothenburg, the radio reported. No other details of the cases were available.

Sweden passed a ban on female genital mutilation in 1982, but not a single case has been brought to trial in the 20 years since.

According to the radio, many families who wanted the procedure carried out circumvented the law by having it done outside Sweden. As a result, the law was amended in 1999 to stipulate that parents could be charged in Sweden regardless of where the procedure was done.

Parents or guardians face a maximum sentence of four years, but if the crime is considered aggravated -- that is, if the girl's life is put in danger or if serious illness ensues – the sentence can be as high as 10 years in prison.

The most difficult part of uncovering (cases of) female circumcision is that it is often within family and people don't want to talk about these things, police commissioner Haakan Frank told Swedish Radio.

The practice, which is common in a number of African countries, can consist of clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris), excision (removal of the outer labia) and infibulation (the partial stitching together of the labia, often after the removal of the clitoris).

The most common reasons given for the practice, which is often defended strongly by older women, are that it is an important rite of passage for girls to womenhood and that it prevents women from being promiscuous.

Others, mainly men, defend the practice arguing that it is African tradition and should be preserved.

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