Indonesia bars doctors from female genital cutting

Jakarta, Indonesia - Doctors and nurses in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, can no longer perform female genital cutting, a senior Health Ministry official said on Wednesday.

Some Indonesian communities encourage parents to cut parts of a newborn daughter's clitoris although the country's Islamic groups are in dispute over such non-therapeutic practices.

Sri Hermiyanti, who heads the ministry's family health directorate, said symbolic female circumcisions that do not involve physical damaging of the child still could be carried out.

"Hurting, damaging, incising, cutting the clitoris are not allowed. These acts violate the reproductive rights of these girls and harm their organs," said the doctor, adding the announcement has been circulated to health workers since April.

"If they only cleanse the organ, that is alright. However, in Indonesia, it mostly involves a form of cutting. This is more cultural than religious as many clerics actually do not encourage it," Hermiyanti told Reuters.

Most Muslim communities in Indonesia believe male and female circumcisions are compulsory. However, some groups only carry out symbolic cleansing of the organ for females.

According to the World Health Organization, two million girls worldwide annually are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that actually predates Islam.

The WHO says a wide variety of reasons are cited for the practice, including maintaining chastity and virginity before marriage and fidelity during marriage. The agency also says genital mutilation is used as an initiation of girls into womanhood, to improve hygiene or to enhance fertility and promotion of child survival.

Hermiyanti added there was no punishment for those who still carry out the practice and she expected it would take time before more traditional communities abandon the ritual altogether.

She added FGM practices in Indonesia were far less damaging than the form followed in some African countries where the removal of part or all of the external genitalia are common.

MUI, Indonesia's umbrella group for Muslim clerics, has not yet given its backing for the ban although it does not consider female circumcision as compulsory.

"I think we cannot completely ban it," Koran Tempo newspaper quoted MUI deputy chief Amidhan as saying unless there were complaints from the girls themselves.

About 85 percent of Indonesia's 220 million population are Muslims with most following moderate interpretations of the religion and combining it with traditional beliefs.