Girl at the Ethiopian-Somali border. (Source: Dietmar Roller)

A tradition of suffering

Somalia/Somaliland: Somalia has the highest rate of female circumcision in the world: 99 percent. In the Republic of Somaliland, 98 percent of women and girls are affected by genital mutilation. To make matters worse, women and girls in rural areas are exposed to a high degree of daily violence. The civil war in the country has had a traumatic impact, destroyed traditional value systems and led to uncertainty and instability, which, in turn, fuels renewed violence. Our project intends to change that. Please support our work with a donation.


The programme against female genital mutilation conducted by Kindernothilfe in Somalia focuses on the Republic of Somaliland, an autonomous region of the country that is a self-declared independent state, but not internationally recognised. Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 after a long civil war. In contrast to other parts of the country, in which violence has escalated, Somaliland has remained largely politically stable and taken steps to introduce democracy. Kindernothilfe can only successfully conduct programmes against genital mutilation in a relatively stable environment.

A successful campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) relies heavily on educating the public about the dangers of FGM. But, more importantly, it can only be effective if the basic education of girls and women is improved. What's more, the prevailing abject poverty and misery in the country must be eased, as this has proven to be a major obstacle to combating FGM.

A ritual with dramatic consequences

A razor blade lies in a hand. (Source: Christoph Engel)
Circumcisors often use unclean razor blades.

The circumcision ceremony is conducted between the ages of six and 14. This is a tradition with deep cultural roots, but it is also fraught with taboos. According to surveys conducted by Kindernothilfe, 62.9 percent project area’s population has never been informed of the dire consequences of genital mutilation.

The highly grave form of genital mutilation known as Type III, also called the "pharaonic" circumcision or infibulation, is particularly common in Somalia and Somaliland. In this case, not only are all of the external genitalia removed, but the girl is literally "sewn closed" – an extremely agonising procedure that leaves her seriously marred for life and causes countless medical complications. Type III circumcision is primarily practiced in rural areas of Somaliland. Kindernothilfe has expanded its project area accordingly.

The health consequences of female genital mutilation are extremely serious, sometimes even fatal. Some girls do not survive the operation, conducted without anaesthesia. They bleed to death or die of infections. Others suffer for the rest of their lives from pain, scarring, complicated childbirths and fistulas. Girls and women are more or less on their own in dealing with the health consequences of genital mutilation. The healthcare system is largely nonexistent in Somaliland. On average, the country has less than one physician for every 20,000 inhabitants, and nearly all doctors are in the city.

Our project partner

Kindernothilfe’s project partner is the organisation Candellight for Health, Education and Environment, which was founded in 1995 and, as the name implies, specialises in the issues of health, education and environment.

Until now, the project work has revolved around the town of Sheikh in north-western Somaliland. The city has a reputation as an education centre, making it ideally suited for an educational campaign that focuses on schools. Surrounding villages are gradually included in the project, as FGM is more common in rural areas.

How the project works

The goal is to reduce the number of circumcisions of girls and young women. The way to achieve this is to educate the population as comprehensively as possible about the damaging consequences of the procedure for a woman's physical and mental health. This is an area our partner organization primarily focuses on when working with young women and parents.

Parental advisory committees at schools: Parent representatives at selected schools inform the school children (both male and female) of the consequences of FGM.

Teachers: Teachers are informed and urged to include the grave problems associated with female genital mutilation in curricula.

Students: The education programme’s goal is to reach 3,500 students (of both sexes) in the town of Sheikh. The topic of FGM is to be addressed during the morning assemblies, but also in small groups. The programme also specifically aims to raise awareness of the issue among selected student spokespersons and former graduates who are now actively involved in sports clubs and youth organisations.

A girl writing at school  (Source: Salome Augustin)
It is particularly important to raise awareness on health and psychological consequences of circumcision. 

Religious leaders: Since FGM is not an Islamic tradition, religious leaders should be involved as multipliers because they serve as important role models and influence public opinion. Imams, prayer leaders and Islamic school teachers should have a heightened awareness of the issue. Women who teach religion in schools are also involved. Our work seeks to persuade religious leaders to make a public declaration of renunciation, in which they call on people to forswear this traditional harmful practice. Persuading this target group is particularly important for the success of the project because religious leaders tend to be resistant to changing the FGM situation.

Model households: The project also takes up the topic of FGM with married couples. The idea is for them to become multipliers and talk to other parents about the dangers associated with circumcising girls. Project staff primarily seeks out parents who have not yet had their daughters circumcised. These enlightened parents are to serve as models for other parents.

Midwives and medical clinics: Workshops teach nurses, caregivers and midwives everything about the health hazards of female circumcision.

Village communities: Selected representatives of village communities take part in intensive workshops on the issue of female circumcision and receive comprehensive information on the consequences of this operation.

Education is key

In the villages, young people and young adults receive classroom instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. The goal is for 70 percent of the participants to be women. They have fewer opportunities to attend school and more commonly have gaps in their basic education.

A tight-knit network

It is hoped that rural communities along with parent committees and groups of schoolchildren and students in the city will be able to tackle the problem of FGM on their own, with support from our partner Candlelight. As many players and decision-makers as possible – such as religious leaders, the hospital in Sheikh and teachers – will be involved, so the information network on FGM will become increasingly close-meshed.

The objective is to change the attitude of the majority of the population. Often only circumcised women are viewed as suitable for marriage. Many young girls see marriage as the only opportunity to secure their financial future. The joint struggle against the tradition of FGM demands a great deal of courage from everyone involved and requires a major change in attitudes.

Project No. 69041

Female Genital Mutilation: strong mother fights brutal ritual

Female Genital Mutilation: strong mother fights brutal ritual

As a little girl, Saynab was genitally mutilated - because it is a tradition in her homeland. Saynab wants to save her daughters from this fate.

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How we protect children

How we protect children

Kindernothilfe supports numerous protection programs and makes every effort to prevent the children involved in its projects abroad and in its German-based activities from sexual abuse and maltreatment.

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