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Law change proposed to prevent genital mutilation
From Flanders Today: The federal parliament’s public health commission has proposed two laws to make it easier to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Belgium. Although the proposals have been under development for a while, the commission announced them this week following an article in De Morgen stating that local doctors have carried out the practice.
FGM is common in some countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the practice is brought to Europe by families who come from those areas. It is performed on girls from infancy to about the age of 15.
It has a number of variations: cutting away part of or the entire clitoris or the labia minora and possibly the majora and narrowing the vaginal opening by stitching the wounds, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual fluids.
The practice is illegal in all EU countries, but some doctors carry it out to prevent girls being subjected to it in unsanitary conditions, according to Marc Van Impe, the editor of MediQuality, a Belgian online news source serving the medical sector. “If they think that the circumcision is unavoidable, some doctors find that performing it in a medically responsible manner is better,” he told De Morgen. “They think that they are preventing something even more serious.”
Van Impe has been collecting information on the subject for the last couple of years. He mentioned four cities in which he knew FGM had been carried out, including Brussels and Mechelen.
MP Els Van Hoof of CD&V, a member of the health commission, said that the legislative proposal has two parts. One would allow doctors to break the vow of patient confidentiality when it seems necessary.
Van Hoof (pictured above) admits that it is already allowed to break doctor-patient confidentiality if minors or women are “in a vulnerable position”, but she wants to scrap all other limitations as well, thinking that doctors would feel more comfortable approaching the authorities.
The second law would require doctors who discover that one of their patients has ever undergone an FGM procedure to record it in her file. According to Van Hoof, knowing how many and what sort of procedures have been performed would help focus research into the problem and campaigns against it.
“I think that there is a very good chance that the majority will support the legislative changes,” said Van Hoof. “Hopefully we can vote before this summer.”
Photo courtesy IranLibre/YouTube