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Zero Tolerance

Working towards the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation and Forced Marriage among African immigrants in Norway.

Background: The harmful traditional practices such as forced marriage (FM) and female genital mutulation (FGM) are significant national and international concern. Forced marriage is defined as a marriage where one or both parties do not consent freely to the marriage. Involvement into such a marriage is accompanied by physical, mental, and emotional coercion and pressure from close family members. Similarly, FGM is a partial or complete non-therapeutic removal or injury of each of the external female genitals for religious, social or cultural reasons (1). It is a painful surgical procedure that is usually performed without anesthesia, often resulting in serious psychological and medical complications for the girls and women (3). Accordingly, the two practices are considered as violence against women, and a violation of human rights.     One of the main objectives of Norwegian action plan against FM and FGM is to reinforce research and knowledge on FM and FGM and to prevent the practice through collective approaches (1;2). The presence of around 20,000 African immigrants from countries where FM and FGM is practiced in Oslo, offers an opportunity to work towards the prevention and ultimate elimination of these harmful traditional practices in Oslo and Norway.     It is widely known that social norms, demographic pattern, and economic factors play a significant role in shaping the marriage character in a society. Forced marriage and their correlate adolescent pregnancies are traditional practices which, not only violate the dignity, but also jeopardize the health, and even the life of women and their children with consequent increase in divorce, prostitution and desertion (3). The distinction between FM and arranged marriage revolves around the notion of consent. If parties are in a legal position (age, power etc) to provide consent and accept the marriage with full and free consent, this process can no longer be described as FM (4).   From a human rights perspective FM breaches a number of international human rights standards. Central to these, is the issue of consent. Moreover, Child marriage is considered a form of FM as full and free consent is to be inexorably absent due to age related limitations. Child marriage has adverse health consequences for young girls, and is associated with domestic violence, increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy and high maternal and child mortality rates (5). Forced marriage and child marriage has also been   linked to poverty due to the fact that women who marry early find motherhood as the sole focus for their lives at the expense of career development (6).

Similarly, since the early 1990s, FGM has gained an increased amount of international recognition as a violation of human rights, including the right to health. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article no. 24, obliges all States to abolish traditional practices that are harmful to the health of children [13]. In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which described the public health and human rights’ implications of the practice, and recommended its elimination.     As migrations from practicing countries continue to increase, FGM and FM has become an issue of increasing concern in Norway and other countries hosting immigrants from countries with FGM traditions (3). Behavior change of the practicing communities has the best chance to successfully and sustainably eliminate the two practices. This fuels our interest in performing attitude change campaigns that are designed to contribute to abandonment of all forms of FGM and FM in Norway.

 

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