AUSTRALIAN doctors are considering a controversial form of genital mutilation on baby girls.
The practice involving cutting a girl's genitals, sometimes with razors or pieces of glass, could be allowed in a clinical setting to stem illegal backyard procedures which are leaving young girls scarred for life.
The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians will next month discuss backing "ritual nicks", a modified form of genital mutilation.
But experts are divided on whether to allow the practice, given that in some cultures it is used to remove the sexual feelings of women.
Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s but is common among African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities.
With the rise in Somali and Sudanese living in Australia, doctors are seeing more cases of young girls, and women, needing surgery after illegal operations. Backers of "ritual nick" said it was a superficial procedure leaving no long-term damage.
RANZCOG secretary Gino Pecoraro said the policy would be discussed at next month's Women's Health Committee meeting.
"We will need to start to think about [its introduction] but we would have to speak to community leaders from Australia," Dr Pecoraro said.
"If a nick could meet the cultural needs of a particular woman, then it might save her from going through what can really be drastic surgery.
"But we need to make sure we do not legitimise the ritualistic maiming of children."
But many are outraged, some saying a "ritual nick" is still child abuse and legitimises female mutilation.
But University of Newcastle's professor of perinatal and infant psychiatry Dr Louise Newman said some doctors were being approached to perform the procedure.
"We know it is happening here ... but [the] majority are done in the home in a traditional way," she said.
Reasons given by practising populations include religion, despite the Koran not requiring it, and that it can help maintain cleanliness and health.
"The problem is some people see it similar to male circumcision but the reasons for both are very different as well as the impact," Dr Newman said.
"The actual procedure can be pretty devastating."