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Tougher penalties
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 09 - 2016

On 31 August parliament approved a bill submitted by the cabinet which amends the current law criminalising the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). The new law considers FGM a felony and will be met by tougher penalties.
According to the amended law, anybody who performs FGM will face a penalty of between five and seven years in jail, instead of the three months to two years which was designated in the 2008 law. The amendment also imposes a stricter penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment if the practice leads to death or a permanent deformity. Those who escort victims to the procedure will face jail sentences ranging from one to three years.
The drive for tougher sentences follows the recent death of a 17-year-old, Mayar Moussa, of complications during an FGM operation in a private hospital in Suez governorate.
Approval of the new law received mixed reactions among feminist groups, specialists and politicians. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a non-governmental organisation, hailed the bill, arguing that it would help curb the spread of the already prevalent practice. Dalia Abdel-Hamid, secretary-general of EIPR who welcomed the law, said that though the bill might not deter people from performing FGM and could drive it further underground, decreasing the number of reported cases. “Imposing a punishment on whomever escorts a girl to have the operation will make families afraid to report cases,” said Abdel-Hamid.
Abdel-Hamid added that the Doctors Syndicate could also do more to crack down on those who perform FGM. “They could suspend doctors who perform such an illegal act. Unfortunately, the majority of FGM procedures are performed by doctors.”
The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the Health Ministry showed that the FGM rate in the reproductive age from 15 to 49 stands at 92 per cent. More than 75 per cent of cases involve girls aged nine to 12 while 14 per cent are seven or younger, which indicates that the vast majority of Egyptian families circumcise their daughters. According to the survey, over 94 per cent of married women have been exposed to genital cutting and 69 per cent of those women agreed to the procedure being carried out on their daughters.
In rural schools, the prevalence rate was 61.7 per cent compared to 46.2 per cent in urban schools. In private urban schools the prevalence rate was very low, 9.2 per cent, a fact that the researchers attributed to differences in educational status between rural and urban areas.
A 2000 World Health Organisation (WHO) survey in Egypt showed that 97 per cent of married women included in the survey had had FGM. According to WHO, Egypt, Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone have the highest rates of FGM. A UNICEF report conducted in 2013 found that Egypt has the world's highest total number of FGM sufferers, with 27.2 million women having undergone FGM.
In July, MP and member of the parliament's Health Committee Ahmed Al-Tahawi claimed that from a medical and religious viewpoint, FGM is “a necessity” as long as it is performed in the right way, adding that religious scholars should decide on the issue. Al-Tahawi's statement ignited a firestorm of criticism with human rights bodies slamming his comments as false, stressing that FGM is neither a religious nor medical requirement.
Meanwhile, MP Elhami Agina has encouraged women to undergo FGM to “reduce their sexual desires” to match that of the country's sexually weak men. “We are a population whose men suffer from sexual weakness, which is evident because Egypt is among the biggest consumers of sexual stimulants that only the weak will take,” Agina said. “If we stop FGM, we will need strong men and we don't have men of that sort.”
Agina, who hails from Daqahliya, said that it is therefore better for women to undergo FGM because it “reduces a woman's sexual appetite” and women should “stand by their men” in order for life to proceed smoothly.
The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) hailed the new law and demanded it be properly enforced to ensure the full protection of the rights of women in Egypt. According to Azza Al-Ashmawi of NCCM, the tradition of FGM is still deeply entrenched in many national, regional and international societies. A plan to fight FGM implemented by the council has gone into action across Egypt's governorates with special emphasis on southern Egypt.
“At last we have a strong law which criminalises such a dreadful act which affects the health of our females,” added Al-Ashmawi.

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