JAFFA, Israel – The Egyptian government has decided to endorse a bill cracking down on female circumcision, making it punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment, Health Minister Ahmad Imad announced.
The government has bowed to pressure from human rights and women’s rights organizations to stop the custom, which is widespread in conservative Muslim and African countries and occasionally results in death or permanent disability.
According to the new bill, instead of a prison sentence of three months to three years, offenders will face five to seven years in jail and up to 15 in cases of negligence that results in death or disability.
The new bill targets relatives – often the “patient’s” father or brother – under whose auspices the victims, usually teenage girls, undergo the operation. They will face up to three years’ imprisonment.
The minister said that the government has sponsored the bill that now awaits the approval of parliament, adding that he hopes tougher sanctions will curb the custom that affects up to 91 percent of Egyptian women. The new law, he stated, will tackle the cultural atmosphere that legitimizes female circumcision.
The bill was accelerated by the death of a girl in the city of Suez following a botched surgery that was performed by a well-known female surgeon in the city. Her twin sister was also circumcised and survived the operation.
Female circumcision is widespread in Arab and African countries and is considered an effective means of “curtailing young women’s sexual desire” and minimizing “harm to family values” – code for extramarital sex.