When cultural practices are health risks: The dilemma of female circumcision

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The circumcision of young women and girls is widespread in African countries as well as in other parts of the world and clearly places them at risk for serious health consequences. Plans to eradicate the practice must recognize the cultural underpinnings that have maintained it. This article discusses the types of female circumcision and the concomitant short- and long-term health risks. The cultural aspects and origins of the procedure are described and a simple model of risk-taking based on control, information, and time is used to explain the complexity of issues that may be involved in the decision of women to consent to the procedure.

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