Doctors draw up policy on female circumcision


By:  Sherri Davis-Barron
     SouthamStar Network

The Toronto Star
Monday, January 6, 1992

After months of investigation, the licencing body for Ontario
doctors has drafted a policy concerning female circumcision.  The
policy, which has not yet been ratified, is likely to say Ontario
doctors should not perform the operation.

"I haven't seen anything that would lead me to infer that this is
a practice that should be done in Ontario," says Roy Beckett,
Associate Registrar for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of
Ontario.  "Most people would consider this to be a mutilation
type of procedure."

Beckett drafted the one-page policy statement after spending six
months investigating the issue for the college, which represents
25,000 doctors.

The practice, which involves the removal of a young girl's
genitalia, occurs mostly in central Africa.  The issue arose in
Canada in June when the Ottawa Citizen reported that Ottawa
doctors were being asked by African parents to perform the
surgery on their children.

"I have been getting about two to three calls a month from
doctors, organizations, and members of the public since the
summer," Beckett said in an interview.

"Doctors wanted to know if we had a policy on this.  We saw a
perceived need to develop a statement."

Beckett declined to say exactly what the policy says.  Although
it's been approved by the college's executive committee, it
hasn't been ratified by the 27-member governing council.  The
policy is to come before the council Jan. 27.

Beckett says he can't predict how the council will respond.

The practice can involve cutting off the young girl's external
genital parts, including the clitoris.  In some countries, it
includes stitching closed the vulva until marriage, leaving a
small opening for urination and menstrual flow.

It occurs in parts of at least 25 African countries, and in parts
of Asia and the Middle East.  The World Health Organization,
which has been working to eradicate the practice for at least a
decade, says it affects at least 80 million women.

Various health risks have been linked to it, including immediate
serious bleeding, recurring infections, pain during intercourse,
hemorrhaging during childbirth and infertility.

There is no evidence the surgery has been performed in Canada. 
However, Charles Kyazze, head of Ottawa's African Resource
Centre, believes it is being performed here by members of the
community.  In some cases, families are sending their children to
Africa to have it done.

Kyazze welcomed the college's proposed policy because he says it
might spur the federal government to pass legislation
specifically banning female circumcision.

"If doctors come out with a policy I don't think politicians can
refuse to pass legislation because it's the doctors who are
closely linked to this issue."

But, Richard Mosley, senior general counsel in criminal and
family law policy for the federal Justice Department said the
criminal code already would apply to the cases of female
circumcision in Canada.

"A child cannot consent to be mutilated and a parent cannot
provide consent for a child to be mutilated," he said.  "It would
be seen by the Canadian courts as assault causing bodily harm or
an aggravated assault involving the wounding, maiming or
disfiguring of the child."

Asked whether there have been discussions about creation of a
specific law banning female circumcision, Mosley said he could
not comment.

Britain has a law banning the practice.

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