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Clinic treating victims of female genital mutilation opens in Berlin

A center to treat victims of female genital mutilation has opened in Berlin. The Desert Flower Medical Center was opened by the former supermodel and activist Waris Dirie, who was herself a victim of female circumcision.

Opened on Wednesday, the Desert Flower Medical Center will offer reconstructive surgery and psychological help to victims of female circumcision or FGM from around the world.

The center, located in Berlin's "Waldfriede" hospital, claims to be the first of its kind in the world. Its chief surgeon Roland Scherer told news agency AFP the clinic plans to treat between 50 and 100 women a year. It will serve as a pilot for other planned facilities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

It is estimated that roughly 8,000 young girls are circumcised every day in Africa and the Middle East. The process, which involves removing the external genitalia - and sometimes inner labia - of girls usually aged between infancy and 15, is aimed at ensuring chastity in women. The operation is both painful and extremely dangerous, often resulting in infections or even death. Later in life it can cause incontinence, infertility or childbirth complications.

The Somali-born patron of the project, former supermodel and UN special envoy Waris Dirie was subjected to female genital mutilation at about age four. In 2002 she founded the Desert Flower Foundation, and has fought for the rights of African women and against genital mutilation.

She described the experience in her bestselling autobiography "Desert Flower," which was turned into a film in 2009.

According to the UN World Health Organization roughly 150 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of the procedure.

ccp/ch (AFP, dpa, epd)