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Last updated: January 2021

COI summary

[Targeting 2019, 3.5.4; Actors of protection, 9.1; COI query on FGM]

After studies revealed startlingly high rates of FGM in the KRI, public debate ensued and efforts of activists culminated in the criminalisation of FGM in 2011 in KRI. However, the implementation of this legislation remains a challenge and FGM continues to be practiced on substantial numbers of girls and women. Outside of the KRI, the extent of the practice remains unclear.

According to a 2013 UNICEF report, an estimated 3.8 million women and girls, or 8 %, have undergone FGM in Iraq. The latest survey on the issue of FGM in Iraq is the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Iraq, conducted by the Iraqi Central Statistical organisation, the Kurdistan Regional Statistics Office, together with UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Key findings of this survey showed that 7.4 % of women aged between 15 and 49 underwent FGM in Iraq. The majority of FGM procedures occur in the KRI (37.5 %), compared with 0.4 % in central and southern Iraq. It is reported that FGM/C is particularly found in the part of KRI bordering Iran but is practiced across KRI. In KRI, sources indicate that the main areas where FGM still prevails are villages in northern Sulaymaniyah, the Garmian district, and in villages in Erbil; Rania is also one of the places where FGM still takes place. According to the 2013 UNHCR study, the percentage of girls and women aged 15-29 years, who have undergone FGM/C in the KRI, was 58 % (Erbil), 54 % (Sulaymaniyah) and 2 % in Dohuk.

Sources note that, generally, Arab girls do not undergo FGM, however, some studies have shown that women living in Kurdish dominated areas in Kirkuk and Garmian to a certain extent suffer the practice as well. A 2012 study indicated that the practice is most common among Sunni Muslims, but also practiced by Shia and Kaka’i. No information on FGM among Christians and Yazidis was available. It is also reported that the level of education is a relevant factor that influences the practice of FGM/C.

Tradition and religion were mentioned as the main reasons for practicing FGM. The purpose of the practice is to ensure the girl’s marriageability and honour in the eyes of the Kurdish community.

2015 studies revealed a significant decrease in the practice, mainly attributed to awareness campaigns by NGOs and the 2011 law. NGOs engaged in such activities note that some areas have not been reached by their advocacy efforts, including villages in northern Sulaymaniyah, the Garmian district and villages in Erbil.

Women, mostly midwives and elderly women, are the ones who carry out FGM. According to UNICEF, the majority of FGM/C operations are performed on minors. There are cases where FGM takes place at birth, but there are also reports of FGM performed on the mother during delivery.

The procedure had been decided on by the woman’s husband in 14 % of the cases, by the husband’s family in 28 %, by the woman’s parents in 32 %, by the woman herself in 15 % of the cases, and by someone else in 11 %. According to a 2016 survey, 24 % of mothers who forced their daughters to undergo FGM reported that they carried out the procedure out of family pressure.

The procedure causes both immediate and long-term health problems for the women subjected to it. They also suffer from psychological trauma for years afterwards.

Risk analysis

FGM amounts to persecution.

Not all women and girls would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution in relation to FGM/C. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: young age, area of origin (particularly affecting KRI), ethnicity (particularly affecting Kurdish girls), religion (most common among Sunnis) perception of traditional gender roles in the family, level of education, local power/influence of the (potential) husband and his family or network, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group. Girls and women, mainly in the KRI, may be subjected to FGM/C for reasons of membership of a particular social group in relation to an innate characteristic (not having been subjected to FGM) and their distinct identity (in relation to stigmatisation by society).