The genital mutilation of adolescent girls is still a common custom in Sierra Leone, where many see it as good preparation for marriage and motherhood. Yasmin had her turn when she was 14. After she was tied up and held down, her external genitals were “scraped” off without anaesthetic. She was warned that if she told anyone she would die. Now 19 years old and living in the UK, she is furious at the violence perpetrated against her and other young girls in her home country
I’d never heard of FGM [female genital mutilation] before it happened to me. Then one morning, when I was 14 years old, my uncle came and woke me up and took me to the house of a tall woman I didn’t know.
Together, they tied my hands and blindfolded my eyes. Then they laid me in the backyard with big banana leaves spread out on the ground. They took off my pants. I was fighting, but the woman sat on my chest. I wanted to die at that moment but I couldn’t scream – they put a cloth in my mouth. It felt like I was suffocating. There were no anaesthetics – they just cut me.
Three days later they said that they hadn’t cut me properly, that my clitoris was “growing back” and they had to scrape it off again. I can’t describe the feeling; you only know when it happens to you.
I stayed there for three weeks. They used to put herbs in a bottle and put it on the wound – it was so painful, like putting pepper on a cut.
I think the mutilation is cultural – many groups of African people are circumcised. They say that if you don’t get circumcised you will smell and a man will not want to marry you.
After they cut me they burned all my clothes and everything I had touched. Then they took the ashes and rubbed them on my stomach. They said that if I told anyone what they had done my belly would swell up and I would die.
Sometimes I get very, very angry. I wish I could talk to the people who did this to me – I wish I was back in that position to stop them. I wish I had a choice.
I had “type three” FGM, and I still feel the effects. I shuffle when I sit down because I get uncomfortable. I feel pain in the night. My period pain is terrible, and I always get infections. And there is a scar.
I came to the UK when I was 15. I was seeking asylum from the war, and from my uncle, who was sexually abusing me. The Home Office said that I was lying and wanted to send me back – that’s when I got married.
Now I’m 19 and I’ve just finished studying for a B-Tec diploma in health and social care. I’m looking for a job – I want to become a social worker so that I can stop other girls going through what I did. In Africa, there are no social workers, but some cases of FGM would be prevented if there were – that’s why I want to be one.
The first time I told anyone what had happened to me, I was 17. I told my best friend in college.
I was scared to talk. I was paranoid that my belly would swell up like they said; I started dieting after I told my friend what happened, and I’d cry if anyone said that I looked fat.
I’m scared to give my name or photo in case someone attacks me because I’m a disgrace, but I don’t feel I have betrayed anyone.
Now I work with groups of young people in the UK. I tell my story so that no one else has to go through it. When I tell the Asian girls in my college they get sad and scared. “This is not Sunni,” they say; it’s not. They’re from Bangladesh so they'[re Muslim, but they don’t practise FGM.
My husband and I want to open a charity in Sierra Leone. We want to give money to girls who are trying to leave their families because they don’t want to undergo circumcision.
My husband is my everything. Without him I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now, and I wouldn’t have got my award from college. He sat crying with me on the floor when my asylum application was refused. He took me to Africa to see about my visa although he is not rich. I wake up every morning and think: “Thank God I have you.”
I don’t think FGM is taken seriously enough in Britain – girls are still being taken out of the country. We need more education on it – people don’t really believe it’s going on and they don’t know how serious it can be. A lady in my country bled to death after she was cut. There can be tetanus on the blade or HIV if they don’t sterilise the needle. Having a baby can be made a lot more difficult by circumcision.
We shouldn’t keep quiet; we should stand up and say that those people are not forgiven for what they did and prevent it happening to others. If I heard about any cases of FGM I’d be the first to go to the police.
If someone breaks your teeth you can replace them, if someone knocks out your eye you have a second eye, but when they take this part of you away no one can ever replace it.
If I have a baby girl and any soul tries to touch her, I’ll kill them. I’ll go to prison, but I’ll never let it happen.
Yasmin, whose name has been changed, was speaking to Rowenna Davis.
Source : The Guardian Weekly – 1 August 2008