Girls in Finland are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), according to a new study released on Friday. The NGO Fenix Helsinki's report cites several instances of girls being transported out of the country for FGM procedures, confirming suspicions that the illegal practice is taking place.
Ujuni Ahmed is the chair of Fenix Helsinki. She is a second-generation Somali immigrant, who arrived in Finland as a young girl with her parents in 1991.
"Our study demonstrates that these trips really are organised in Finland. I have also heard that FGM is carried out within the country," Ahmed says.
Real purpose of the trip concealed
Although the report's authors spoke with several women who had undergone FGM, only four agreed to be interviewed for the study. The four women that were interviewed were transported from Finland to different countries - Egypt, Somalia, Syria and Iran - for the illegal procedure. Only one had ever visited a gynaecologist, and all four were not aware of the purpose of the trip ahead of time.
"The continuation of the tradition in Finland is largely influenced by how aware people are of FGM's illegal status and the damage it can do. It is also a matter of how well a person or community is integrated into Finnish society," she says.
FGM is a cultural tradition that exists in the Middle East, Asia and some African countries. It often involves circumcision of a woman's or girl's external genitals or closure of the vulva.
Corrective surgery available in Helsinki
Senior Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS) physician Sinikka Suominen has performed corrective surgery on women and girls who have undergone FGM.
"I've only had a few patients over the years, despite the fact that our clinic is the only - or one of the only - places that carries out these corrective surgeries in Finland, to my knowledge," she says.
She says this tells her that women in Finland aren't aware that corrective measures are available.
"In the end, it is a simple operation that could really help these people. I hope that information about it would spread. We would gladly welcome more patients," Suominen says.
The report will be handed over today to Tuomas Kurttila, Finland's Ombudsman for Children.
"The study is important because the people in question are Finnish citizens. Until now, we have put our trust in the ability of the healthcare system would prevent this kind of thing from taking place on a widespread basis, but this is clearly not the case," he says.
Dire need for more information
Fenix Helsinki's Ahmed says the authorities, victims and families of the victims are united in their lack of information.
"A minor is rarely able to critically challenge the traditions and habits of their family. It is often a family member that carries out the procedure, sometimes even the girl's own mother," she says.
She says Finland still has a long way to go in educating gynaecologists, health care centre workers, doctors and school personnel in how to relay information about FGM, with an emphasis on the illegal status and the health and psychological risks involved.
"We need to get the data into the communities, so the change can happen from within," says Ahmed.
Hard for the law to intervene
Despite Ahmed having heard about FGM taking place in Finland, not one report of a suspected crime of this nature has been reported to the Finnish police.
National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said on Friday that it is almost impossible for the Finnish police to clamp down on FGM. Most of the cases are taking place during visits to foreign countries, as the report has shown. He says the authorities are dependent on health and social service practitioners in this case, because most of the abuse is taking place under a shroud of secrecy.