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A Look at the My Lai Massacre

Written by Heather Wilhelm

Being a Global Studies and History major has allowed me an interesting perspective on the history of war.  One war that I have studied quite a bit was the Vietnam War and more specifically the My Lai massacre that occurred in March of 1968.  I had heard a few years ago that Oliver Stone was planning to bring the horrors of this historical event to the big screen in another one of his epic political films, but recently learned that the production of “Pinkville” (what the My Lai massacre is more commonly referred to) had been halted.  Now whether or not there is any political posturing behind this production delay, I felt that I would bring the story of My Lai to you in writing and allow you to understand not only what happened on that fateful March 16, but also how the American government and their treatment of soldiers led to this horrific event.

The My Lai massacre was one of the greatest war tragedies of all time.  Hundreds of lives were lost in that small village in March of 1968, and along with them, the souls of countless soldiers went missing that day.  While the American public struggled to figure out why and how this could happen, the soldiers who were involved were asking themselves the same question.  It was a question that would never be answered.  There were many theories as to how such a catastrophic event could occur under American leadership.  Racism was a reoccurring speculation, as many of the soldiers had been trained since day one to hate the Vietnamese.  “The many hours the men spent during combat training listening to their instructors referring to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’.[1] Another explanation explored was the language barrier.  The army felt that because their soldiers and the Vietnamese could not communicate, there had been a misunderstanding at My Lai.[2] This theory was quickly quashed by the testimony of the soldiers who had been present that day in the village.  Drugs and alcohol were another possible “reason” for the massacre.  The troops had been drinking the night before the massacre[3], but again the testimony of Charlie Company proved that theory wrong.  It is still hard to say exactly what caused all those soldiers to react the way they did in Vietnam that day, and throughout the rest of the war, but it is safe to say that there are some factors that contributed more than others.  Through conscription and a lack of training of soldiers, as well as jungle warfare involving an invisible enemy, and the need for revenge by the soldiers fighting the war, the My Lai massacre was able to occur, and it became a direct reflection of the Vietnam War in general.

The Vietnam War was America’s longest and most unresolved military conflict.[4] As a result, hundreds of thousands of young American men were forced to join the army through conscription, and were provided very little training as soldiers with regard to the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions.[5] While American involvement in the Vietnam War was getting deeper and deeper, the government began to rush to find men to fight the war overseas.  They used conscription as a means to accomplish this feat, and were consequently left with thousands of men who were well below military standards.  “…what came to be called McNamara’s 100,000, the Project 100,000 men well below the Army average in terms of aptitude and intelligence and deemed unlikely to met peacetime entry qualifications.”[6] The standards for acceptable soldiers in Vietnam were so low, that it was not unimaginable that the My Lai massacre could happen.  Many of these men did not have the capacity to differentiate between right and wrong, and were therefore unable to protest what was ordered at My Lai.  Another problem with conscription was that many young men were forced into fighting the war.  “‘I was scared.  I didn’t want to go, but I had to,’ remembers Bergthold.  ‘Because if I didn’t I’d probably get court-martialed.’”[7] Unwilling young men across America were drafted into the army, and they could not protest without being put in jail.  When given these two bleak options, most men chose to fight the war, although they never truly accepted that they had to.  They felt trapped and in most cases, did not care about the war at all.[8] They wanted to go home, and this meant providing the government with high body counts.  “In a war that did not offer territory as a reward, body count became the index of success and failure in the whole war.  Officers who did not achieve satisfactory body counts were replaced; units who performed well were rewarded with leave.  The body count was the key statistic after each firefight and the pressure to produce high figures was enormous.”[9] These soldiers knew that if high body counts were provided they could go home, and they soon stopped caring about who they were killing.  The Vietnam War had an astronomical amount of civilian casualties and this was due, in large part to soldiers who did not care about or understand the war they were fighting.

This lack of regard for noncombatants in Vietnam was a direct result of the lack of training that was provided to soldiers before deployment.[10] While rushing to deploy young soldiers, the armed forces relaxed their training methods with regard to the rules of engagement.  This meant that most soldiers received less than one hour of training on the proper treatment of noncombatants in foreign countries.  “On paper, all soldiers received at least one hour’s instruction on the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions.  In practice, it made little, if any, impression on men who were spending hundreds of hours being trained to follow orders and learning how to kill.”[11] So few hours were spent teaching these men how to deal with the Vietnamese civilians that there is no wonder they showed them no regard in My Lai.  They were not taught to communicate with them, or to understand their culture, and as a result they saw them as less than human.[12] The soldiers did not have any remorse for killing noncombatants in My Lai, and throughout Vietnam because they were not taught how to treat them as human beings.  “Rules of engagement were designed to limit the risk of civilian casualties.  In theory, they were issued to every serviceman; in practice, they might as well have been written on water.”[13] Rules of engagement was a term that was rarely heard amongst these soldiers.  Such a miniscule amount of time was spent teaching these men how to behave in a war, that they invented their own rules.  In doing so, they forgot to see humans, and instead saw animals when dealing with the Vietnamese.  In My Lai, they did not see innocent civilians, they saw human scum, something to kill, something to desecrate[14].  This was the case all over Vietnam, where blameless peasants were being killed every day due, in part, to a growing frustration within the army companies.  This frustration stemmed from the massive number of American soldiers the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were killing[15].  They were fighting a war that the United States was unaccustomed to, and therefore soldiers were losing their friends and fellow fighters on a daily basis.

Jungle warfare was a foreign method of war for the Americans, and they were losing many soldiers as a result[16].  After years of fighting against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, they were still unable to identify friendly civilians from enemy soldiers.  “In a conventional war, it is clear who are civilians and who are soldiers, but guerillas wear no uniforms or insignia to differentiate themselves from noncombatants.”[17] These silent forces were killing soldiers each day, and there was no way to stop it from happening.  They simply could not tell who was good and who was bad.  “‘How can you distinguish the enemy?  How can you distinguish between the good and the bad?  All of them looked the same.  And that’s why the war was so different.  You know it wasn’t like the Germans over here or the Japanese over there.  They all looked alike, North and the South.  So how can you tell?’”[18] This statement sums up the soldiers’ attitudes towards the Vietnamese.  Their confusion was at an all time high, as they tirelessly plowed through the rice paddies searching for enemies.  They saw old men in fields and young children playing in the villages, and everyone was a threat to their safety.[19] The more unhinged they became, the more dangerous they became.  Being unable to see their enemy led them to fire their weapons haphazardly, to attack without provocation, and to injure the innocent.[20] These seemingly normal young men were becoming killers and this was never more apparent then when they entered My Lai village.

Meanwhile, as the American soldiers grew increasingly frustrated, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army grew only in power.  “The Viet Cong meanwhile grew in numbers and confidence and learned how to deal with the tactical innovations of the American advisors.  In spite of millions of dollars of US military aid, and the presence of thousands of military advisors, the Viet Cong had grown steadily stronger.”[21] The increase in power and number of the Viet Cong only added to the desperation of the American soldiers.  They grew to hate the Vietnamese more vehemently then ever and displayed this hatred through the destruction of their villages, and the rape of their women.  “‘the VC/NVA apparently lose only one sixth as many weapons as people, suggesting that possibly many of the killed are unarmed porters or by-standers.’”[22] Never was this more apparent than in My Lai village, where hundreds of unarmed women, children and elderly men were murdered.[23] Being unable to distinguish between the enemy and noncombatants led the soldiers to see everyone as a threat, so therefore, everyone in My Lai village had to die.

As the assault on My Lai grew closer there was another change in the American soldiers.  More than just not being able to differentiate between the Viet Cong and the civilians, the soldiers sought revenge against all Vietnamese to avenge the deaths of their fellow soldiers.  “There then took shape a terrible psychological sequence in which there were real deaths in one’s unit, as there had been in C Company before My Lai.  There were two central deaths – one of a much-beloved sergeant who was a kind of father-figure.  There was a fierce sense of anger and grief in the men…”[24] Here lays one of the central reasons for the My Lai massacre.  The soldiers felt such guilt and shame for the deaths of their fellow officers and friends that they began to seek revenge against anyone they could.[25] The Vietnamese were all to blame for the tragedies that befell their troops, and as such, they would all pay.  In My Lai, the soldiers entered a village of noncombatants, but all they saw were enemies, because they had long ago forgotten that there was any good in Vietnam.  These enemies who were killing off their friends one by one with booby traps in the woods, and snipers in the trees had all become a single enemy:  the Vietnamese[26].  Everyone was to blame, so everyone must pay for the deaths within their troops.

Revenge was a key factor throughout the entire Vietnam War; it was not exclusive to the My Lai massacre.  The rape of numerous women in villages throughout Vietnam quickly became a silent problem for the American military.[27] Michael Berhardt was a soldier in C Company and he noticed that the soldiers in his troop had adopted a new code of conduct that permitted the brutal rape of civilians.  When he was questioned about whether rape was a prevalent problem by investigators he stated, “I thought it was, sir.  It was predictable.  In other words, if I saw a woman, I’d say, ‘Well, it won’t be too long.’  That’s how widespread it was.”[28] The soldiers had taken on a new attitude about war.  Instead of protecting the weak and powerless they were exploiting them on a daily basis.  Lieutenant William L. Calley recalled witnessing one of his soldiers raping a civilian and telling him “to get his pants back up and get over to where he was supposed to be.”[29] Instead of reprimanding his subordinate for committing a crime of war, the Lieutenant casually tells him to stop and does not instill any type of punishment.  The soldiers in Vietnam were not being punished for their crimes, and as a result started to believe that their behavior was acceptable.  These blasé attitudes towards civilians were another contributing factor in the massacre.  When the soldiers stopped behaving like civilized humans, the people who paid the ultimate price were the women, children, and elders of My Lai village.

There are few people who would argue that the My Lai massacre was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions, although there are not too many people who know that this tragedy occurred.  There was a large effort made by the American government to minimize what actually happened that day and eventually the ‘massacre’ became an ‘incident’ that was quickly swept under the carpet and forgotten about.[30] The government’s attitude towards the massacre was similar to most of the soldiers of ‘C’ Company who thought they were simply following orders that day.  The lives that were taken that day were not human to them; they were something lower, something inhuman.  This mind frame allowed the soldiers to murder hundreds of souls without a second thought.  Again, this occurred for several reasons.  Racism, language barriers, and drugs and alcohol could all have played a role in the mindset of some of the soldiers, although there are several reasons that play a stronger role.  Conscription and a lack of training of soldiers left the American troops weaker then they had ever been.[31] The young soldiers did not have the mentality or the courage to stand up and refuse to take part in My Lai because they were scared and inexperienced.  The guerilla war that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were fighting was something that the American military was not accustomed to.  This resulted in numerous American casualties, which produced vengeful soldiers on a mission to avenge the deaths of their friends and fellow soldiers.[32] That being said, through conscription and a lack of training of soldiers, as well as jungle warfare involving an invisible enemy, and the need for revenge by the soldiers fighting the war, the My Lai massacre was able to occur, and it became a direct reflection of the Vietnam War in general.  Thankfully, since that fateful day in March of 1968 many of the soldiers who fought in My Lai have had the opportunity to reflect on the wrongs that they committed against the human race.  Unfortunately, there are others still who do not understand the consequences of the murders they were a part of, because they were never punished for them.  Hopefully, some lessons were learnt from these past mistakes, and the world will never have to witness another My Lai massacre.

[1] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[2] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[3] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[4] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[5] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[6] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[7] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[8] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[9] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[10] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[11] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[12] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas.

[13] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[14] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[15] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[16] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[17] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[18] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[19] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas

[20] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[21] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[22] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[23] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[24] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas.

[25] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[26] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[27] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books

[28] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[29] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[31] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[32] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

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Cambodia’s Trouble with Landmines – is a Brighter Future Possible?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

For my birthday last week, my boyfriend bought me a beautiful necklace from a great fair trade store called Ten Thousand Villages.  The necklace is called a Peace Dove Bombshell Necklace, and upon reading the literature that came with it, I learned that this piece of jewellery was made in Cambodia by a group of artisans who had formed an organization called Rajana.  Rajana is completely owned and operated by the Khmer people of Cambodia, and offer fair salaries, education, interest-free loans and many other benefits to their workers.  They are working to create beautiful art by turning the ravages of decades of war and tragedy into prosperity for their people.  The Peace Dove Bombshell Necklaces are made from the remains of land mines that litter the land of Cambodia and have led the country to have one of the highest numbers of amputee populations in the world.  This birthday gift – as beautiful as it is – tells the story of a horrific past and the ever-present danger that face the people of Cambodia.

Between 1975 and 1979 the ruling party in Cambodia was a totalitarian government called the Khmer Rouge.  The party was led by Pol Pot and believed in extreme Communist principles including social engineering and agricultural reform.  Their radical social reform process was carried out by deporting all the inhabitants of major cities to the countryside where they combined populations with farmers and were forced into labour in the fields.  Anyone suspected of capitalism (a group that included teachers, professors, urban city dwellers, anyone connected to foreign governments, and even people who simply wore reading glasses) was arbitrarily executed, tortured or detained.  There is a large range of estimated deaths in the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, but most estimates but the death toll at 1.5 million people.  This included those executed by the government, as well as those who died of starvation from lack of experience growing food, and those who died of preventable diseases because of the government’s insistence that westernized medicine be kept out of the country.  Money was abolished; schools, hospitals, banks, industrial and service companies were closed; books were burned and as mentioned earlier, almost the entire intellectual population of the country was massacred.  Most notable in the long list of treacherous crimes performed by the Khmer Rouge was the separation of children from their parents (who were believed to be tainted by capitalism) and their subsequent brainwashing (children were often given leadership roles in torture and execution) into this dangerous form of socialism.  While the Khmer Rouge were toppled from government in 1979, the group itself survived as a group into the 1990s, causing death and destruction throughout these decades.

It is estimated that four to six million landmines were laid in Cambodia over the decades of war fought there, and every year hundreds of Cambodians fall victim to the lasting effect of these forgotten weapons.  In a population of approximately 12 million people, it is estimated that more than 40,000 amputees are living, or one in every 290 Cambodians.  These amputees are chastised by their peers and have been forgotten by their government, often having to try and make a living selling merchandise on the streets for small commissions.  There are many active mine removal organizations that work within Cambodia that are trying to clear mines in an effort to make the country safer, but this sizable job is nowhere near completion leaving the citizens of Cambodia in constant danger or death or amputation.

Organizations like Rajana are imperative to the turnaround of countries like Cambodia that are suffering the after effects of decades long war, as they play a role in creating job opportunities and education for its citizens.  By providing fair wages, health care, education and more to their employees Rajana is working to create a different future for Cambodia.  Aside from creating a better social welfare system, it is imperative that the international community become active in the banning of land mines and cluster bombs.  The Ottawa Treaty also known as the Mine Ban Treaty became effective on March 1, 1999, and as of early 2009 had 156 parties to the Treaty.  Once a country has signed, they are required to cease production of anti-personnel mines as well as destroy any stockpile of mines within four years (except for a small number they are allowed to retain for training purposes).  Thirty-seven countries have not signed the Treaty, including the People’s Republic of China, India, Russia and the United States of America, all of whom are some of the largest producers and carry some of the largest stockpile of anti-personnel landmines.  By refusing to sign this Treaty, some of the most powerful countries in the world, namely the United States and China, are perpetuating a problem that has caused countless deaths and produced mass destruction.

The Peace Dove Bombshell Necklace is just one small way that we can make a difference in the eradication of land mines while at the same time allowing us to contribute to the social development of a nation.  A portion from the proceeds of every necklace sold between the International Day of Peace (September 21) and Remembrance Day (November 11) goes to Mines Action Canada while the remainder goes to the artisans making a change through the Rajana organization.  While I hazard to use this site to advertise for companies, Ten Thousand Villages has spent decades providing international communities with a venue to sell fair trade items and I feel their work should be recognized.  If you’re interested in learning more about Ten Thousand Villages and their fair trade items, visit them at www.tenthousandvillages.ca.  To learn more about the work of Mines Action Canada, visit them at www.minesactioncanada.org.  While it is often hard to read about the horrors occurring in other countries, at times I feel our minds can be eased by trying to make any kind of difference, however small or insignificant it may seem.

hw

The Global Hunger Crisis – Why Haven’t We Made More Progress Towards the Millenium Development Goals?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

It is so easy to forget about the true state of the world when we live our day to day lives just going through the motions.  Here are some statistics to shock you back into reality:

~        1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

~        More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

~        Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; and

~        Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.

When I read statistics like these, I actually find it very hard to believe that they are real.  How is it possible that I’ve lived 28 years never going hungry, and yet somehow during my regular 8 hour work day more than 4,800 children die of hunger-related diseases?  Women and children the world over continue to be the most disenfranchised individuals on the planet, and even the most well-meaning organizations, like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), are unable to help effectively.  A recent report from Reuters states that world food aid is at an all-time low despite the fact that the number of hungry people in the world soared to its highest level ever, with more than 1 billion people classified as lacking food.  The WFP has barely enough funding this year to help a fraction of these people, which is made more horrifying by the fact that it would take a mere 0.01% of the global financial crisis bailout package from the United States to solve the hunger crisis.  Priorities need to shift in Washington and in neighbouring developed countries, with the eradication of poverty and starvation not only in “third world” countries, but also right in their own backyards moving to the top of the list.

As per the WFP’s website, one of the possible solutions to the world hunger crisis is the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which are:

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

These eight development goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The importance of the implementation of the MDG’s cannot be overlooked, but considering we are more than halfway through the fifteen year period that was allotted to make these development goals a reality, how much has really been accomplished?  If the WFP can say that 2009 saw more hungry people than ever before, clearly something is being done wrong.  In an attempt to look into progress reports, I found most sites to be sorely lacking (for instance, the United Nations Development Programme website’s section entitled “Implementation of the MDG’s” last shows an update in 2005), which is beyond discouraging.  The eight goals listed above are so basic, so simple and so easily achieved that is simply doesn’t make sense why there hasn’t been more progress reported.  As a society, we need to hold our government accountable for the commitments they made to the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken people of the world in 2000, and ensure that they are meeting the requirements set out for each country in helping to bring the Millennium Development Goals to fruition by the year 2015.  If you want to make sure they are held accountable, speak up, tell people what you’ve read here and make your voice heard.  Local government representatives aren’t just elected to sit around and look pretty – they are supposed to carry our voices and concerns up to Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If there’s one country in the world that exemplifies the spirit of helping others, it’s Canada, so let’s make sure when 2015 rolls around, our country has done everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

hw

The Practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Kenya’s Meru Society

Written by Heather Wilhelm

After briefly reading about the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the Meru tribe of Kenya while updating our website’s Media Watch section, I decided to do some further research on the history of FGM/C amongst Meru women, and what is being done to change these barbaric traditions.

The tradition of FGM/C in the Meru society dates back to an ancient myth in which all healthy men of the village were sent off to fight enemy tribes, but upon their return from war, found their women impregnated by the weaker men who had been left behind.  The myth continues that from this day forward, women were forced to endure the removal of their clitorises to deplete their sexual desires in the hopes that they would remain faithful to their warrior husbands.  This practice of FGM/C has been carried forward into present Meru society despite the fact that these procedures have been illegal since 2001 under the Children’s Act.  The Act specifically states:

No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development. (Kenya 2001, Sec. 14)

In an effort to change and modernize Meru society, elders of the tribe have begun to run an Alternative Rites-of-Passage (ARP) program that promotes both knowledge of cultural traditions of the Meru, as well as modern values.

These ARP programs have been taught in several Meru locations since 2007, and so far more than 2,000 girls and young women have taken these classes as an alternative to the brutal FGM/C.  The idea behind the program is to remain true to the values of the Meru and the idea of preparing girls for womanhood through education rather than physical mutilation.  These young women learn about relationships, marriage, self-awareness, Meru cultural values and traditions, substance abuse and even HIV/AIDS.  While ARP seems like the perfect alternative to FGM/C in the Meru society, there is still a huge amount of resistance to the change and FGM/C procedures are now often performed under cover of night, sometimes by individuals not qualified to perform them.  There are so many risks and dangers involved in the practice of FGM/C (aside from the fact that it is a blatant violation of basic human rights), that these procedures are becoming increasingly dangerous.  Some of the short-term side effects include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and damage or injury to nearby genital tissue.  Some of the long-term consequences of FGM/C can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, and the need for further surgeries depending on the type of FGM/C that the woman was subjected to.  There are four main procedures used to perform FGM/C and in brief they are:

1)      Clitoridectomy: involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and sometimes the prepuce as well;

2)      Excision:  involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, which can or cannot include the removal of the labia majora as well;

3)      Infibulation:  the creation of a covering seal to narrow the vaginal opening.  The seal is formed by removing and then repositioning the inner and/or outer labia.  This procedure can or cannot involve the removal of the clitoris; and

4)      Other:  this includes all procedures performed on female genitals not for medical purposes and can include pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

There are many organizations including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and local NGO’s throughout Africa that are trying to put an end to the practice of FGM/C.  As I mentioned earlier, ARP programs are being created in different regions of the continent, including in the Meru society, but there are still millions of young girls at risk of FGM/C every year in Africa.  Moving towards the eradication of FGM/C will require that education and awareness about the consequences of this procedure to young women (both physically and mentally) be made available to community leaders throughout the many regions in Africa where FGM/C is prevalent.  In the meantime, it will be up to the many women who have suffered this barbaric procedure, and the brave men who support them to bring forward change in local communities through alternative learning programs.  Hopefully the international community will continue to fight for the rights of children in developing countries, specifically the rights of girls, by bringing awareness to the public on such a large scale, that these violations of human rights can no longer be ignored.