By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Sept 18 - A spate of deaths of young girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) has renewed calls for Somalia to outlaw the tradition, one of six FGM-practising nations in Africa yet to criminalise it.
Four girls - aged between 10 and 11 years old - from central and northern Somalia have died in the last three months after being cut and seven others are in hospital, activists said.
"More and more cases of girls who have died or end up seriously injured after FGM are coming out," said Hawa Aden Mohamed, director of the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development, a local women's group in the east African country.
"These cases confirm what we have been saying all along, that FGM kills and that we need a law to stop it. The harm it causes is blatantly clear."
An estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia, says the United Nations.
One of 28 African countries where the tradition is endemic, Somalia has the world's highest rates of FGM - 98 percent of women between 15 and 49 have undergone the ritual.
Somalia's constitution prohibits FGM, but efforts to pass legislation to punish offenders have been stalled by parliamentarians afraid of losing voters who view FGM as a part of their tradition.
Government and hospital officials were not immediately available to comment on the deaths or hospital admissions.
The charity Save the Children said it rescued seven girls - aged between five and eight years old - on Sunday from Somalia's northern Puntland state. The girls had undergone FGM and were bleeding excessively and were now being treated in hospital.
"I'm afraid that this is just the tip of the iceberg as many more cases go unreported," said Timothy Bishop, Country Director of Save the Children in Somalia.
Campaigners said 10-year-old Suheyra Qorane Farah from Puntland died on Sunday after contracting tetanus, having undergone FGM on Aug. 29.
Two sisters, Aasiyo and Khadijo Farah Abdi Warsame - aged 10 and 11 - from the same region bled to death on Sept. 11 after visiting a cutter across the border in neighbouring Ethiopia.
The death of 10-year-old Deeqa Nuur in July from severe bleeding following FGM prompted the attorney general to initiate Somalia's first prosecution against FGM - using existing laws - but the investigation has faced challenges.
Flavia Mwangovya, End Harmful Practices Program Manager at Equality Now, said an anti-FGM law would curb the practice.
"A specific law can express punishments and specify stiffer penalties, ensure that all accomplices are held accountable, and gives guidance on the kind of evidence needed to prove the crime," she said.