London community worker Sarian Karim Kamara underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child in Sierra Leone. Karim Kamara, who moved to Britain in 1999, says far more needs to be done to protect thousands of girls at risk in the UK.
“I’ll never forget what happened to me. I was only 11 years old and I’m 36 now. I’ve had five children and the pain I went through on that day cannot begin to compare to any of my labour pains. It’s indescribable.
Some people might think that FGM is just a cultural practice, that it is normal or acceptable for some communities. But it is not acceptable because it causes so much physical and psychological harm and has no benefit at all.
It also damages relationships, but people don’t discuss this because it goes against our upbringing. I’ve had problems in the past when I’ve met men from other communities and the relationships did not get anywhere because of this. The sexual part is totally destroyed. You have to have somebody who really cares for you for you to ever enjoy sex.
I’m married now and happily married because my husband is from a community that practises FGM so he will not treat me any differently. But I know a lot of women who have not been so lucky.
There is also psychological trauma caused by FGM. You always have flashbacks when you see things that remind you of what you’ve been through and it brings you back to that day when you were 11. This will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m still on a healing process.
What I find really worrying here is that so many health professionals turn a blind eye. If a pregnant woman turns up in a maternity ward with signs of FGM you have to consider that if her baby is a girl she may also be at risk.
All four of my girls were born in London hospitals but not once during any of the births or check-ups did anyone ask me when and where I had FGM done, or whether I intended to have my daughters cut. Nobody in this country has ever talked to me or any of my daughters about FGM at all.
I find that very disturbing because it’s very obvious I’ve been through the process – everything was removed. You see people mumbling among themselves. I don’t know if it’s out of fear or because they don’t want to upset me that nobody says anything.
Midwives are the ones who come across the victims or survivors of FGM and the families who practise it. They are like the frontline in this, but girls at risk have been missed so many times.
THEY SAY IT'S DONE OUT OF LOVE
If I knew of any child at risk of FGM I would do anything in my power to protect them. It is child abuse, period. That’s how I feel. It’s nothing less than child abuse so I would try to get somebody involved, maybe the police or social services. Not so that the parents are arrested, but to stop the child being mutilated. If I know the child is at risk I’m not going to wait until the child has gone through the practice before I say anything.
My girls are 10, 7, 5 and 14 months. The older ones go to school in Peckham in southeast London and sadly most of the teachers there don’t even know what FGM is.
If you don’t know about it and don’t know the effects how will you protect the child? There are a lot of Sierra Leoneans in my area and FGM is widely practised. It is very shocking that teachers don’t know about it.
I’m from a Christian community. My dad was against the practice, but my parents separated and my grandmother organised and paid for everything to be done.
Back home in Africa you don’t discuss these things with your parents. But I have asked my mum and she said it is shameful for parents to have a daughter who has not been initiated because the chances of marriage are very slim. You have to do this to integrate into the community so they apparently do it out of love.
When my mum had my younger sister 20 years ago she was in labour for 10 days. She couldn’t go to the toilet. She nearly lost her life – and all because of problems caused by FGM. But she still supports it. It’s a big issue, a big party. It’s a time to eat and drink. If my mum hears the drum announcing the ceremony she will stop what she is doing to join the celebrations.
She says some people are now beginning to campaign against the practice because it is causing too much harm. But she also told me that I have to be careful because people believe when you talk about these things something bad will happen to you.
My younger sister is now 20. I said to my mum: ‘You can forget you have me as a daughter if you ever get her cut. I will never send you money. I will never call you’. My sister has not been initiated and I don’t think she’s going to be.”