DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—The practice of female genital mutilation is widespread in northern Iraq, and authorities there must find a way to tackle the problem, a rights group has said.
More than three-quarters of women over the age of 14 surveyed in an area of Iraqi Kurdistan, have undergone forced ‘circumcision,’ Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Wednesday.
"It's time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won't go away on its own," Nadya Khalife, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East women's rights researcher, said.
Around 130 million women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation, which is often abbreviated as FGM, and the practice remains common in the area of sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as comprising "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons."
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, says the WHO.
The practice is relatively uncommon in the rest of Iraq, but has taken root in Kurdistan, where it is sometimes advocated by local Sunni Muslim clerics.
The report, titled "They took me and told me nothing," says that the practice is viewed a religious requirement for women, and anything they touch prior to the procedure is considered unclean.
"Most women referred to FGM as an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one's religion that is not obligatory," it said.
The report calls for authorities in the Kurdistan regional government to enact legislation to ban the practice. In addition it called for an awareness campaign to be carried out to highlight the dangers of the practice.
"The government not only needs to take action to end this practice, but to work for public affirmation of a new standard—not mutilating their girls," HRW said.
The report gave accounts of how young girls had been taken by their mothers to visit unlicensed practitioners, who often did not maintain high standards of sanitation.
"Often, the midwife used the same razor to cut several girls in succession,” the report said.