Sister Joanna, head of the Coptic Center for Training and Development, participates in a 2007 lecture on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) attended by Christian and Muslim women. (Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt’s Weak Laws, Lax Enforcement Hamper Efforts to End Female Genital Abuse

Christian Coptics and Muslims practice mutilation despite clerical bans

[Cairo] — Failure by Egyptian police to find and detain the doctor involved the May hospital death of a 17-year-old during female genital mutilation [FGM] surgery has put the spotlight on lax enforcement of rules prohibiting the practice.

Three months ago, Mayar Mousa died from post-surgical heavy bleeding in a private hospital in Suez while under full anesthesia as a result of the FGM procedure sometimes called ‘Sunnah circumcision’ by its advocates within fundamentalist Islamic circles.

“It is incredible that the Egyptian police are not taking a tough line on ending FGM in a country where over 27 million have been affected,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East Director for the global women’s rights group Equality Now. “Egypt must adopt a ‘zero tolerance policy’ toward FGM, which includes taking swift action against the health workers who carry it out.”

FGM can involve removal of parts of the clitoris or in some cases the partial or complete removal of all parts of female external genital organs. Mousa’s death sparked anger against doctors and clinics that tolerate the practice despite the ban imposed in 2008. This week, the frustration of women’s health campaigners mounted as Dr. Raslan Fadl, a doctor convicted in January 2015 for the death of a 13-year-old girl during FGM surgery, was released after serving only three months of his two-year sentence.

On Tuesday, a coalition of ten human rights groups criticized existing laws banning the practice, saying several amendments to the code proposed by the health ministry failed to include hospital managers and owners of clinics where FGM operations are performed.

The 2008 law banned FGM, categorizing the procedure as a “serious injury.” Surgical deaths from it are classified as “accidental manslaughter” and activists want to raise the amount of fines, lengthen prison sentences and expand the circle of prosecution to anyone complicit in facilitating the practice.

“Doctors around me never admit doing it,” internist Mohamed Borg told The Media Line, “but they keep saying it is based on religious grounds and wouldn’t mind doing it. The scary thing is that there are no medical journals or guidelines for this surgery.”

According to the United Nations Development Program, 82% percent of female “circumcisions” in Egypt are performed by trained medical personnel. “Sometimes a younger doctor watches a senior one doing it or even worse — just discusses the procedure ‘theoretically’ with the junior physician who ends up operating for his first time alone,” said Borgi.

As weak as the laws and its enforcement seem to critics, the United Nations Development Program says there has been a 12 percent drop in female genital mutilation over the past eight years.
FGM conducted on girls between 15 and 17 has dropped from 74 percent in 2008 to 61 percent in 2014, according to UNDP.

Global development and relief agencies are working to change attitudes towards FGM by engaging parents and religious leaders, especially in Egypt’s countryside where the practice has persisted among the large Coptic Christian minority as well Muslims.

In June, the UN children’s organization UNICEF gathered Egyptian religious leaders to pledge support for a moratorium on female genital mutilation, placing it in the context of a campaign to stamp out violence against children.

“Regional disparities are as significant here as religious ones,” Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Egypt told The Media Line. “Studies show the prevalence of FGM in the nineteen and under age group as being significantly lower in the urban governorates – at about 31 per cent, compared to rural Egypt -where it is as high as 75 per cent.”

FGM is widely practiced on the African continent and some Ethiopian Jewish women were subjected to it prior to their immigration to Israel where the custom has been abandoned.

In Cairo, top officials from Al-Azhar University, the chief Sunni Muslim authority in Egypt, and bishops from the Coptic Orthodox Church have issued authoritative bans on the practice.

“With the advancement of medical knowledge, monitoring of cases and meticulous research, experts have come to a consensus that FGM causes grave harm,” said Dr. Gamal Abou El Serour, a professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Al Azhar.

Doctor Serour said FGM reduces the woman’s ability to be sexually fulfilled during marital relations “although this is her right guaranteed by Islam and it must be rejected as a violation of woman’s privacy and the integrity of her body, which God has forbidden.”

 

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