Amending the FGM Law: Parliament must listen to the warnings of civil society, the National Council for Childhood, and senators and representatives: tougher penalties and maximum-security prison are not a solution but an obstacle that prevents the reporti
With the draft law submitted by the government to amend the articles criminalizing female genital mutilation (fgm) reaching its final stage in the House of Representatives this week, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) has called on parliament to resubmit the issue for community discussion with the participation of specialists. This is especially in light of the objections and warnings expressed over the past days and weeks by organizations active in the combatting of FGM, human rights organizations, women’s and children’s organizations, as well as the representative of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood at the meeting of the Legislative Committee of the Council, in addition to senators and representatives, all of whom demanded the reconsideration of the growing trend to once again toughen penalties, without looking at the impact of that policy on the effectiveness of combatting the crime of FGM or the rates of reporting it over past years.
EIPR has reiterated its welcome of the draft law’s movement towards toughening penalties against perpetrators of the crime among doctors and medical staff, and expanding the scope of criminal responsibility to include medical facilities where this crime takes place, as these are important steps to confront attempts to provide alleged medical justifications for this crime. However, EIPR also stresses that expanding the scope of criminalization and toughening penalties to include anyone who requests or calls for this practice will not, in practical reality, lead to the elimination of the practice, but might lead to counterproductive results represented in the continued reluctance of families to report in the event of additional serious health complications caused by performing fgm.
EIPR has also called on the House of Representatives to reject the amendment to the definition of fgm proposed by the Senate, and to adhere to the one contained in the government’s proposed draft which is more accurate and closes all loopholes for escaping criminal responsibility.
The previous amendments to the articles criminalizing fgm took place in 2016, when Article 242 bis of the Penal Code was amended to increase the sentence of those who commit the crime or the original perpetrators from two years of jail, to between five and seven years of imprisonment, with the sentence increasing to maximum security imprisonment in the event that the practice of mutilation leads to permanent disability or death. The amendments of 2016 also added a new article, Article 242 (a), criminalizing the request of fgm and the punishment of anyone who requests it with imprisonment of between one and three years if this request leads to the genital mutilation of a girl. Undoubtedly, the additional article applied to the families of girls, with the goal of deterring them from this practice. However, the same amendments suffered a serious shortcoming, which opened the door to exemption from the provisions of these articles in case of what they called “medical necessity” or in case the provisions of Article 61 of the Penal Code-which drops penalties against anyone who commits a crime in protection of self or others from a danger to life- applied. Both these references offered a way out for those who persist in their perpetuation and defense of fgm, through presenting the practice as if it were a medical necessity for “cosmetic” reasons, for example, or through alleging that it is for the benefit of the health of the girl. Regretfully, there are doctors who defend this justification and promote it, when they know better than anyone that there is no material scientific or medical evidence that supports this harmful and sometimes fatal practice.
Hence came our initial welcoming, along with that of other human rights and feminist organizations, of the amendments proposed by the government on the 31st of January. The amendments adopted a precise and categorical definition of fgm that was not restricted to the complete or partial removal of genital organs or the inflicting of injuries on these organs, but rather penalized anyone who “evens, modifies, or mutilates,” closing the door to representations of fgm as a cosmetic procedure. The proposed amendment also imposed a more severe penalty on the perpetrators of the crime among doctors or medical staff, with imprisonment for no less than seven years, and increasing to maximum security imprisonment for no less than ten years in the event that the crime results in a permanent disability, and imprisonment for no less than fifteen and no more than twenty years if the crime leads to death. The amendment also broadened the scope of criminal responsibility to include medical facilities where the crime takes place, stipulating a penalty of closure of the medical facility for five years if it is a private one.
However, the proposed amendments also display a worrying tendency to expand the scope of criminalization to include anyone who advocates, promotes or requests fgm, if this request results in performing the procedure. This, for the most part, applies to the families of girls, as mentioned above. The penalty for those who seek fgm in this case would be imprisonment rather than jail, making the maximum penalty in the previous article (3 years of imprisonment), into the minimum penalty in the new article.
EIPR and the Task Force Against FGM have repeatedly called for the reconsideration of this tendency to expand the scope of criminalization and to increase the severity of penalties, taking into account the adverse effects this could have, as represented in families’ reluctance to report the crime in the event of furhter medical complications, and discouraging those surrounding the family from reporting for fear of the severe penalty to be imposed on families. This is in addition to the continuation of the practice, based on the prevalence of erroneous information and its oral transmission in light of the willingness of many medical service providers to perform this harmful procedure.
On March 15th, after the House of Representatives referred the proposed amendments to the Senate, a joint Senate committee combining the Committee for Constitutional and Legislative Affairs and the Office of the Health and Population Committee completed its report on the amendments. The report retracted the definition of fgm proposed in the government’s draft, and recommended returning to the same phrasing which currently exists, and which limits fgm to “any partial or full removal of the external genital organs of a female,” reopening the door to perpetrators evading criminal responsibility by alleging that fgm was performed for cosmetic reasons or to “remove sebaceous cysts.” The Senate’s report also approved expanding the scope of criminalization to include those who promote or advocate for fgm, and increasing the penalty to be imposed on anyone who requests fgm from jail time to imprisonment. On the 21st of March, the Senate approved during its plenary session the amendments of the joint committee and referred them to the House of Representatives, whose Legislative Committee discussed the amendments and in turn approved them on the 24th of March.
During discussions of the amendments in both the Senate and in the Parliament’s Legislative Committee, several representatives and government officials-including the representative of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood at the 24th of March session of the Parliament’s Legislative Committee- expressed their belief that intensifying penalties is not a solution in and of itself, and that it cannot substitute for governmental efforts in raising awareness about the harms of fgm and its negative effects on sexual and reproductive health and on the lives of girls in many cases; the tougher penalties will instead provide additional justification to conservative views which encourage this practice.
EIPR confirms that the studies and official surveys on fgm that have been carried out since the approval of the last amendments to the same articles in 2016, showed that a practice so deep-rooted in Egyptian society will not recede simply by increasing penalties, but rather will only decline as officials assume their responsibilities in providing information, dialoguing with families and medical staff around the harms of this practice, and educating girls and boys at different stages of schooling about the dangers of fgm and the fact that it is not supported by any reliable medical or scientific evidence.
Based on this, EIPR calls on the members of Parliament to reject proposals for increasingly severe penalties against those who promote or advocate for fgm, during the plenary session of the House of Representatives to discuss the amendments which is to take place this week. We call for limiting the tougher penalties to perpetrators of the crime among doctors and medical staff, and on Parliament members to insist on returning to the definition of fgm contained in the original draft proposed by the government.
For More: A Statement regarding the proposed amendments issued on the 9th of February by the Task Force Against fgm in Egypt which consists of: The EIPR for Personal Rights, The New Woman Foundation, The Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, The NGOs Coalition Against FGM/C, The NGOs Union Against Harmful Practices On Women and Children, Tadwein Center for Gender Studies, the Love Matters initiative, The Egyptian Female Lawyers’ Initiative, the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights, The Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development, and Salemah For Women’s Empowerment: https://cutt.ly/0xBIrqf