Colombia's Embera indigenous tribe is one of the few communities in Latin America known to practise female genital mutilation (FGM), which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

Known among the members of the 250,000-strong Embera tribe as "curacion", the origins of FGM in Colombia are the subject of various theories.

Some believe it was adopted from the slaves who were brought to the continent from Africa, others that it was introduced after the birth of a hermaphrodite by midwives who were worried that females could become males.

"When I was nine, I heard a secret from my mother, a secret about females... four of her sisters had died before she was born because her grandmother had performed mutilation on the clitoris of these sisters," Patricia Tobon Yagari, a lawyer and campaigner for indigenous communities, says.

"Among grandmothers, there is a belief that children are born half male and half female. To prevent them from becoming male, they have to prevent the growth of the clitoris. It's [also] a way to control the sexuality of women."

READ MORE: Why we should care about FGM

There are no figures on how many newborn babies undergo FGM in the tribe each year, but according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unofficial figures suggest that two-thirds of Embera women have undergone FGM, which can cause severe bleeding, pain, recurrent urinary tract infections, infertility and complications in childbirth.

FGM has been practised by the Embera tribe for hundreds of years, but until 2007 - following the death of a newborn from an FGM-related infection - there was no national awareness. Only members of the tribe and some local authorities knew it took place, explains Dana Baron Romero, from the UNFPA.

But the death of the baby girl helped lift the taboo surrounding FGM and has prompted Colombian authorities and the UNFPA to start an awareness-raising campaign - in the hope that Embera communities will stop the practice.

There are no laws specifically against FGM in Colombia, making it difficult to prosecute those who carry it out. Retired prosecutor Victor Martinez has been following some of the cases and discovered that the practice is not limited to one community.

"In the Sierra Nevada, of Santa Marta in the northern part of the country, the Arhuaco, and Cogui tribes, and others practice the mutilation of female genitals, specifically with young girls," he explains. "Also in the north, in the Guajira state, there are also a few indigenous tribes that practice FGM," he adds.

FGM is also known to be practised in Peru and Panama.

READ: John Chua on FGM: A native affliction on every inhabitable continent

Taking nearly a decade to complete, 'Cut' is a feature-length documentary proving conclusively that female genital mutilation (FGM), or cutting as it is sometimes called, can be found as a native practice on all inhabitable continents. From war zones in the Middle East to middle America. The interviews were recorded by John Chua for his documentary in June 2016 in Colombia.  

Source: Al Jazeera News