Belgium: More than 35,000 women and girls are at risk of female genital mutilation

By M B
4 Min Read

A study commissioned by the FPS Public Health and the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men in Belgium estimated that 23,395 women and children across the country have undergone partial or total removal of their external genitalia, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM).

The study was presented on Tuesday to the press in the presence of the Secretary of State for Gender Equality Sarah Schlitz. It was carried out by two researchers, a demographer and a midwife in public health, and also concludes that more than 12,000 girls or women living in Belgium are “potentially at risk of excision” because of their origins.

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This is the fourth study on the subject. The previous one, based on data from 2016, estimated that 17,575 women were “very likely to be circumcised,” and 8,342 girls were “at risk of circumcision.” The numbers have been steadily increasing since monitoring of the situation began in 2007.

The women living in Belgium, presumed to be circumcised or at risk of being circumcised, are primarily from Guinea, Somalia, and Egypt. They live mainly in Flanders (16,089), and to a lesser extent in Brussels (7,989) and Wallonia (9,784).

“Migration continues, and migrant people are often younger and, therefore, have children,” noted Fabienne Richard, one of the researchers.

The provinces of Antwerp, Liège, and the Brussels-Capital Region are the areas that receive the most women and girls who are victims of or at risk of female genital mutilation.

The problem of female genital mutilation is almost entirely a problem seen in migrant communities, which is the case in countries such as Germany. The number of girls and women who are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Germany has increased by 44 percent since 2017 to 68,000, announced former German Minister for Family Affairs Franziska Giffey in 2020.

According to the minister, mainly migration is to blame for the massive increase as many migrants coming to Germany commonly practice FGM in their own home countries.

More than a third are minors

Among the approximately 35,000 women and girls estimated by the study in Belgium, more than a third are minors.

“There is a crucial need to inform and raise awareness of the communities concerned, especially as the holidays approach, which is a high-risk period with returns to the countries of origin,” warns Fabienne Richard.

Among other recommendations resulting from the study, the researchers also consider it necessary to establish a female genital mutilation (FGM) trajectory for families who have come to Belgium through family reunification.

More generally, the recommendations call for a uniform policy in all schools to identify all forms of sexual violence against children early on. On the caregiver side, the theme of FGM should be integrated into their curriculum and become a part of their continual education.

“These studies are essential so that political decision-makers can anchor their work in the realities on the ground,” said Secretary of State Sarah Schlitz. At the same time, Schlitz announced two upcoming awareness campaigns; one to raise awareness of the two accredited centers offering comprehensive care for circumcised women (CeMAViE at the CHU St Pierre in Brussels and the VrouwenKliniek at the UZ in Ghent), and another for prevention during vacations, which often take place in the women’s home countries.

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