Illawarra medicos and midwives will be trained to treat victims of female genital mutilation as part of a statewide program to curb the brutal practice.
Young girls living in the region who fear they could be targeted for the cultural custom are also being urged to contact the FGM program run by NSW Health.
Co-ordinator Linda George said the program was regularly run in regional areas – including Wollongong – to educate certain migrant communities, and the health professionals who will treat them.
‘’There’s 48 countries around the world that practise female genital mutilation, and some of these communities began to migrate to Australia in the late ‘70s,’’ she said.
‘’So we work closely with these communities to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the practice, and that it’s a criminal offence under Australian legislation.’’
Ms George said while the custom was generally carried out overseas prior to migration, there was anecdotal evidence it was occurring here.
Indeed in March this year - in Australia’s first criminal trial for female circumcision – a mother and former midwife were sentenced to 15 months jail time over the mutilation of two young sisters in Wollongong and Sydney’s north west before 2012.
‘’We are hearing stories – which we have not been able to validate – that it’s happening here or that families are sending girls back to their home countries to get it done.’’ Ms George said.
There were many reasons for the custom, with many cultures believing it to be a way of purifying or cleansing their girls. Others thought it a way to reduce a girl’s sexual drive to reduce promiscuity.
It was education, not condemnation, that these people needed. ‘’We shouldn’t condemn people whose eyes are closed, we should educate them,’’ Ms George said.
She encouraged health workers, or girls at risk, to contact the program for support on (02) 9840 3877.
The short-term effects of FGM included significant pain, bleeding and infection; long-term there could be issues with sexual relationships, menstruation and child birth. Psychological effects were also common.
However the health program was helping many from these cultures understand the dangers.
‘’The program has been running since 1996 and we’ve got women we worked with then come back to us with their daughters who have not been subjected to this,’’ Ms George said. ‘’And they’re very proud of that.’’