LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Egyptian doctor is to face trial over the death of a teenage girl who allegedly died after he carried out female genital mutilation (FGM) on her, campaigners say.
They hailed the prosecution as a victory in the global drive to eradicate the ancient ritual which millions of girls undergo every year.
Soheir al-Batea, 13, died last June after Dr Raslan Fadl allegedly performed FGM on her at her father’s request in a clinic in Mansoura, north of Cairo. The girl’s father will also face criminal charges.
Egypt banned FGM in 2008, but it is still widely practised there, often by doctors operating in secret.
Rights group Equality Now, which campaigns against FGM, said the decision to put the doctor on trial sent an important signal that FGM would not be tolerated in Egypt.
“Egypt has the highest number of women affected by FGM in the world and the government has never really come down heavily before,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s Middle East and North Africa consultant.
Just over 90 percent of women and girls in Egypt have undergone FGM, which involves cutting a girl’s genitalia in order to reduce sexual desire. Many believe the ritual is a religious duty, but it is not mentioned in either the Koran or the Bible.
In most countries where FGM is practised, traditional cutters perform the ritual. But in Egypt three quarters of girls who have undergone FGM have been cut by a medical professional, usually by a doctor, according to U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
Campaigners say the move to "medicalise" FGM in countries like Egypt and Indonesia is tantamount to legitimising a grave human rights abuse and is setting back global efforts to end the practice.
“As FGM becomes normalised with doctors carrying it out, it becomes more deeply ingrained and harder to end,” Abu-Dayyeh added.
“FGM is illegal under all circumstances in Egypt, but it appears to be following Indonesia by informally permitting it under medical conditions. We believe this normalisation process is one of the most serious threats to ending FGM.”
Egyptian media sources said the doctor had been charged with circumcising the girl and causing her death. The ministry of health closed his clinic following her death.
In a statement last year, the doctor denied performing FGM and said he had been treating the girl for warts.
It is not clear when the trial will take place.