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The 2008 CARE International Award for Humanitarian Reportage sponsored by sanofi-aventis

When a girl is taken – usually by her mother – to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes.

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There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl’s genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she’s given a small, celebratory gift -- some fruit or a donated piece of clothing -- and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14. While female circumcision is less severe in Indonesia than it is in other countries - the amount of flesh removed, if any, was alternately described by circumcisers as being the size of a quarter-grain of rice, a guava seed, a bean, the tip of a leaf, the head of a needle -- its consequences are still serious. The World Health Organization recently reported that circumcised women are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth and that their babies are more likely to die as a result of the practice.

Stephanie Sinclair

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