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Genital mutilation claims probed in Sweden

Published: 30 Jun 2014 14:40 GMT+02:00

Since Midsummer, a school in Norrköping has made global news for discovering scores of school girls who had suffered female genital mutilation (FGM). 

Now it's making rounds again thanks to apparently misleading information that made it into the original story by local paper Norrköpings Tidning (NT).

The paper reported that 60 mutilated girls had been discovered at a school, and that 30 of them were in the same class. But new accounts revealed that the girls were not in one class, but rather in a temporary working group put together for the purpose of the study.

"What does it really matter?" Annica Hesser, the journalist who wrote the original article, wondered. "Thirty girls who have been mutilated is just as many no matter where they are sitting. The suffering is the same." 

Some newspapers had also incorrectly reported that the girls had been born and raised in Sweden - which was not written in the original report, Norrköpings Tidning claimed. The paper has now clarified that many of the girls may be first-generation immigrants, although no official statistics have been released on that point. 

In Sweden FGM is a serious crime which can give sentences of up to ten years in prison. All forms of genital mutilation have been illegal in Sweden since 1982.  Fifteen years ago the law was updated so that genital mutilation was punishable in Sweden even if the act occurred abroad. 

Social services in Norrköping have concluded that all discovered instances of FGM in the school occurred before the families migrated to Sweden. However, perpetrators can still be charged in certain instances even if the act occurred before moving to Sweden, for example if they plan on moving to Sweden and are aware of the law. 

"The important thing in this case is what connection the family had to Sweden before the crime occurred. It can happen that someone plans to move to Sweden and that a relative here informs them of this law, and so they carry out the mutilation right before they come to Sweden," Marie Kronqvist Berg, Norrköping district prosecutor, told the NT paper. 

Parents can be punished even if they did not have strong ties to Sweden at the time, but simply lived in a different country where FGM is not accepted. Swedish law states that in such cases the "parents should therefore understood the crime's reprehensibility". 

However, no crime is suspected in the case of the 60 girls in Norrköping.

"Our focus is just to take care of these girls now," said student health manager Ann-Christine Johansson. "On the other hand, if we discover instances where girls are operated on summer vacation in other countries, then we report it to social services."

Anissa Mohammed Hassan, a public relations officer in Östergötland, told the paper she is aware of families in Sweden who have taken their daughters abroad to get the surgery. Hassan herself suffered from FGM, and shocked other Somali mothers when she said her daughter would never undergo the operation.

"We don't know what happens behind closed doors," Hassan said. "But in such an open country like Sweden, genital mutilation can be the only way for parents to control their girls. The law doesn't scare people since nobody checks." 

Hassan's suggestion is that schools perform mandatory examinations on young girls. Checkups on boys' testicles when they are seven years old is standard, and Hassan said the same should be true for girls. "It should be as natural as getting your sight and hearing checked."

Even though the law has been in place for over 30 years, there have only been two cases in which FGM has led to perpetrators being sentenced in Sweden. 

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