Malta does not have an official policy framework to deal with female genital mutilation, the first EU-wide study into the practice has shown.

There is no record of the procedure ever actually taking place here

The study, published this month, was conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality at the request of EU Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Malta lacks any specific criminal law provisions or an action plan on female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision or genital cutting.

No national studies have been completed on the prevalence of the practice. There are no hospital records or child protection interventions related to female genital mutilation and asylum has never been granted on the basis of the practice, according to the study.

One Ethiopian family who claimed asylum in Malta on the basis of female circumcision had their application rejected.

Female genital mutilation is classed as a form of gender-based violence by the UN. It comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the genital organs for non-medical reasons.

According to the World Health Organisation, the practice is most common in western, eastern and northeastern Africa and some Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

A detailed study into women living with the consequences in Malta is currently being conducted by Integra, Aditus and the Jesuit Refugee Service Malta. They are already collating data with health professionals and sub-Saharan African women. Integra researcher Maria Pisani said while it was a gross violation of human rights, she was wary of creating a “moral panic” around the issue, which was due to tradition not religion.

“We know there are women affected by female circumcision on the island but there is no record of the procedure ever actually taking place here,” she said.

“While we are also looking at how to work on prevention, our preliminary findings are that in general mothers have moved away from this practice and are not encouraging their daughters to undergo it.”

Ms Pisani said their research was aiming to develop the local know-ledge base on the issue using a bottom-up approach, with affected women informing the process.

They wanted to identify the problems women were experiencing locally as a consequence of genital mutilation and to ensure they had access to the relevant healthcare.

This would include sensitising health professionals to a problem they may be wary of broaching for fear of being culturally insensitive.

Ms Pisani said the consequences of genital mutilation among refugee and migrant women should not be studied or tackled in isolation.

“This is related to the broader marginalisation of migrant women and the difficulties they face in trying to meet their own needs.

“Most of these women have more urgent concerns, such as shelter and food for their children.”

Circumcision facts

There are no policy documents that address female genital mutilation in Malta.

The National Sexual Health Policy (2010) refers to it as “one of the realities arising around sexual health which needs to be addressed”.

Training on female genital mutilation for health professionals was organised in 2010.