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UN agencies tell Egypt to enforce FGM ban after girl’s death

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 11 Jun 2013 12:28 PM
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A counsellor in Egypt holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM) in Minia in this photo from 2006. REUTERS
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – U.N. agencies have called for the prosecution of an Egyptian doctor after a 13-year-old girl died while undergoing female genital mutilation at a private clinic.

Egypt banned FGM in 2008 but it is still widely practised there, sometimes by traditional cutters but also by medical staff operating in secret.

International campaigners against FGM said the case highlighted the dangers of “medicalising” FGM  – a trend seen in several countries that they say is setting back global efforts to eradicate the ancient ritual.

The girl, identified as Soheir al-Batea, died on Thursday evening in a village in the Daqahliya governorate northeast of Cairo, according to reports on Monday on the Egypt Independent and Gulf News websites.

FGM , which is practised by both Muslims and Christians in Egypt, is a cultural ritual that entails cutting a girl’s genitalia in order to reduce sexual desire. Many believe it is a religious duty, but it is not mentioned in either the Koran or the Bible.

Doctors and nurses in Egypt were banned from performing FGM in 2007 after a 12-year-old girl died from an anaesthetic overdose while undergoing the procedure.

Egypt outlawed the practice the following year with penalties ranging from three months to two years in prison and fines of up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($715).

In a joint statement, the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF and the U.N Population Fund (UNFPA), which promotes reproductive health, called on Egypt to enforce the law against FGM and urged a full investigation into Sohair’s death, which they said was “another sad illustration of the terrible consequences that female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) has on the girl child".

“It has been clearly demonstrated that there are no medical or religious justifications (for) such practice. This violation of children and women’s rights should be stopped once and for all,” the agencies added.

CALLS TO LIFT BAN                                                                                                               

A national health survey in 2008 showed 91 percent of women in Egypt aged 15-49 had undergone FGM, but the figure dropped to 74 percent for girls aged 15-17 – suggesting the practice may be gradually decreasing.

Senior religious figures in Egypt have repeatedly stated that FGM has no basis in Islam or Christianity, but some Islamist politicians who have recently come to power have called for the ban on FGM to be lifted.

Some doctors say that laws against FGM mean parents are more likely to seek out traditional cutters or back street operators who use unsterilised instruments.

In a recent research paper, Egyptian doctor Mohamed Kandil wrote that parents should be allowed to ask medical staff to perform clitorectomies to prevent them "exposing their daughters to possible catastrophes" at the hands of illegal and often incompetent practitioners.

But international campaigners say moves to "medicalise" FGM in some countries, particularly Indonesia, are tantamount to legitimising a grave human rights abuse.

“Any medical professionals who support FGM in any sense - and in any part of the world - should be removed from the official register,” said Faiza Mohamed, Nairobi Director of rights group Equality Now.

“All attempts to ‘medicalise’ FGM are steps in the wrong direction and jeopardise decades of work which has already been done to eliminate it entirely,” she added.

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