EGYPT: Female genital mutilation and Syrian girls
By Nikolaj Nielsen
Excerpt from EU Observer (02.10.2017) – http://bit.ly/2xQV07g – Reports are now emerging of young Syrian refugee girls in Egypt having their genitals mutilated – a widespread practice among Egyptians – by Syrian parents.
Cases of what is also known as “female genital mutilation” (or FGM) began to surface months ago.
“Syrian refugees started adapting the culture, [and] they started accepting things we are trying to abandon,” Aleksandar Bodiroza, who heads the United Nations Population Fund, told reporters in Cairo.
Though outlawed in Egypt, the vast majority of married Egyptian women have been cut. Often relatives hold down the girl while a midwife or doctor removes or cuts the labia and clitoris.
The tradition is not limited to Muslims. Christian communities in Egypt are also known to force the procedure onto their daughters – some as young as 8 years old or less.
“It is very specific for Egypt – you don’t have it in the Gulf, you don’t have it in Jordan, you don’t have it in Palestine, you don’t have it in Syria. We were caught by surprise,” said Bodiroza.
Zaid M. Yaish, who also works at the UN fund, said poverty and desire to marry off daughters are among the likely factors that contribute to the abuse.
“I noticed that Syrians are starting to adapt this FGM – this is a surprise to me. I mean, in Syria, there was never FGM before and that is due to the social pressure,” he said.
Nobody knows yet how prevalent FGM is among Syrians in Egypt, or if the reported cases are isolated.
But like almost all Egyptians, Syrians and other refugees are facing crushing unemployment. While Syrians have access to health and education, they require work permits.
Public services are dire and the financial woes, felt by all, are particularly harsh among those who have fled war only to survive on threadbare diets and wages, if any, which are even lower than Egyptian standards.
“The price of meat went from 40 pounds to over 160 pounds per kilo. Everything is increasing, we can’t keep up,” said Maher El-leilani, a refugee in his late 50s from Homs in Syria, who now lives on the outskirts of Alexandria.
The EU is attempting to alleviate the inflation by injecting some €2 million into a broader cash-assistance programme, distributed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Syrian families can get anywhere between 600 to 2,800 Egyptian pounds per month. Six-hundred Egyptian pounds, as of this month, is roughly equivalent to €28. Last October, the same amount would have equated to around €62.
“We have seen a deteriorating situation, an increasing vulnerability, with more people becoming more vulnerable when compared to six months ago,” said Aldo Biondi, an expert on Egypt from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.
“More and more families are falling under poverty, so they knock at the UNHCR,” he added.
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