Sri Lanka

Country: Sri Lanka

Population: 20.48 million

Estimated prevalence: Unknown

Type practiced:  It is reported that types I and II FGC are most frequently practiced in Sri Lanka, usually 40 days after birth. It is most commonly performed by the mothers and grandmothers of the children, who are typically known as the ‘osthi mami’. After removal of the clitoris, the osthi mami sprinkles ash on the wound to stop the bleed, and then the baby is rocked to sleep.

Legal status:

Legal

History of FGC in Sri Lanka:

Sociologists trace FGC back to the arrival of Arab traders on the island some 200 years ago. Many traders married Malaysian women who practised FGC in their home countries and continued the practice once settled in Sri Lanka.

FGC culture is widespread in Sri Lanka, and is secretly guarded by women who believe that infants who do not undergo FGC will be considered unfit for a respectable marriage.

Sithy Umma, a teacher with five daughters in the Sri Lankan capital claims that FGC is part of Sri Lankan traditional culture. Although she acknowledges that the practice is not mandated by Islam, she advocates for its health benefits as it “promotes cleanliness”.

Dr Marina Riffai highlights that many orthodox women fear they will become overwhelmed by sexual desire if the clitoris is not removed. But, she suggests that there is little awareness of the correlation between FGC and the negative health consequences women can endure. Dr. Riffai associates the rise of the practice with Islamic fundamentalism, yet the fact that FGC does not have religious sanction has forced the practice to go underground.

Osthi mami are generally found practising FGC in the suburbs of the capital city, particularly in Maskade, Dematagoda, Maradana and Hultsdorf. These traditional cutters earn 500 rupees (roughly $12) and are gifted with a metre of white cloth in which the bloodied ash is collected.

Current efforts to abandon FGC:

FGC is rarely publically discussed in Sri Lanka. When questioned, both osthi mami in Maskade and Dematagoda refused to talk in depth about their profession, but they did mention that the ritual was on the decline due to a loss of respect for traditions among the younger generation.

Ongoing challenges:

A study by a non-governmental organisation reveals that nearly 90% of Sri Lankan Muslims and Borahs, a sect of Muslims, support FGC. The study attributes low awareness of the practice among males, who are not present at the ritual. It claims women who have been circumcised are treated with more respect within the community. FGC is a livelihood for the osthi mamis, which is a traditional occupation.

The issue has been raised at various fora, but anti-FGC propaganda has not been sustained. There are also different kinds of FGC; for some it is just a symbolic act with a knife touching the clitoris, while for others it means the skin should be scraped off or the visible genitals removed. The Muslim community is itself divided between those who think it is an essential part of their culture and others who say it has no religious sanction.

With little domestic pressure against the practice, FGC culture in Sri Lanka is individualistic. Rehana who rejects outside criticism of FGC, said “it is a part of our faith”. Her 20- year-old sister-in-law, who was born a Christian, was cut when she married.

Practising ethnic groups:

Unknown, but it is assumed that all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka practice FGC.

Languages:

Sinhala & Tamil

Major religions:

Buddhism: 70.19%

Hinduism: 12.61%

Islam: 9.71%

Christianity: 7.45%

Other: 0.04%

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