UNICEF Chief hails curb on female genital mutilation
Thursday, 8 January 1998: Egypt's reimposition of a legal ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) is a major step toward the universal elimination of a horrific, dangerous and indefensible violation of human rights, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today.
"The clarity and authoritativeness of this decision is a dramatic affirmation of the rights of women and girls that will reverberate far beyond Egypt," Ms. Bellamy said. "Misogyny cannot continue to be hidden under the rubric of `traditional practices.'"
In a ruling handed down late in December, Egypt's highest court rejected arguments that female genital mutilation is a religious dictate authorized by the Koran and directed that authorities uphold a 1996 Health Ministry ban.
"The recognition that FGM cannot be justified under Islamic law is an enormously important element in making the case for the abolition of this cruel, ritualized form of violence against women and girls," the UNICEF chief said. "That is why I am more hopeful than ever that the worldwide campaign to end female genital mutilation will quicken and spread. It is hard to imagine a more auspicious beginning for the new year."
The force of Egypt's court ruling was magnified by the concurrence of the country's most respected Islamic scholars and by the Muslim world's widespread recognition of Egypt as a leading centre of Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence.
More than 130 million women and girls living in Egypt and 27 other countries on the African continent, as well as in parts of Asia and the Middle East, have been subjected to the procedure. More than two million a year worldwide -- 6,000 a day -- are genitally mutilated. They range in age from infants a few days old to mature women.
The excruciatingly painful operation, often carried out with crude, unsterile instruments, is aimed at preserving female chastity and marriage prospects at the expense of normal bodily functions and capacity for sexual pleasure. Beyond such short-term consequences as shock, infection, and scarring, FGM often leads to serious long-term damage, including childbirth complications, psychological trauma, chronic pain, urinary infections, incontinence -- and sometimes death.
Female genital mutilation is an explicit violation of Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligates States Parties to protect children's rights to the highest attainable standards of health -- an objective that includes steps to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.
FGM's elimination is also among the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children, at which governments adopted a Plan of Action to promote child and maternal health, the plight of children in especially difficult circumstances, and the role of women.
UNICEF's efforts to combat FGM in Egypt have included a five-year, $250,000 programme to promote education and awareness-raising and other activities. UNICEF is also assisting efforts to end FGM in numerous other countries, including the Gambia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Kenya. In Burkina Faso, UNICEF's support helped secure passage of legislation that makes FGM punishable by prison terms ranging from 6 months to 10 years, and fines of up to $1,800.
Last April, UNICEF and two sister UN agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), announced a joint initiative to help bring about a major decline in FGM within 10 years -- and complete elimination of the practice within three generations.
A key element of the interagency effort is to assist governments in developing and implementing clear national policies for the "abolition of female genital mutilation, including, where appropriate, the enactment of legislation to prohibit it."
"Elimination of this abhorrent and unacceptable practice is a long-term undertaking because it will ultimately require not only laws that are enforced, but far-reaching transformations in attitudes and cultural norms," Ms. Bellamy said. "Egypt has taken a big step toward that end."
FGM, long prevalent in Egypt, had been legal only if performed by doctors and health workers. Under the 28 December court ruling, medical personnel convicted of performing the operation are subject to three-year prison terms and their hospitals to closure. The decision cannot be appealed.
|Please email email@example.com with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1998/01.|