Sudan Claims to Ban FGM, Legalize Apostasy, Allow Women to Travel

A six-year-old girl undergoes female genital mutilation in Somalia – which 95% of girls aged 4 to 11 face there. Photograph: Jean-Marc Bouju/AP
Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

Sudan’s Justice Minister has announced an alleged ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), the scrapping of apostasy and alcohol laws, and an end to flogging, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported on Sunday.

Sudan passed the human rights reforms last week. Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari officially announced them for the first time on Sunday.

“We [will] drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan,” Abdulbari said, the BBC reported.

As part of the new reforms, Sudan has banned FGM, a barbaric ritual in which part or all of a girl’s genitalia is removed. Extremely dangerous, the mutilation can cause the girl to endure severe physical and psychological trauma for life and often results in death. Countries in Africa record the world’s highest rates of FGM, considered a violation of human rights by the World Health Organization.

Kenya recently recorded a marked increase in FGM cases during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, despite the country criminalizing the act in 2011. Parents reportedly took advantage of school closures during coronavirus shutdowns to perform the procedure on their daughters. The Kenya example highlights that a nominal ban on the practice may not necessarily result its in eradication from Sudan.

Sudan claims it will also no longer require women to seek permission from a male relative if they want to travel, especially if they are traveling with children, RFI reported.

Also under the new reforms, non-Muslims in Sudan are now allowed to drink alcohol for the first time in almost 40 years; the prohibition on alcohol dates back to 1983 when Sudan’s President Jaafar Nimeiri established Sharia law in the Islamist country, according to the report. Non-Muslims constitute about three percent of Sudan’s total population. The new alcohol law stipulates that non-Muslims must consume alcohol “in private.” They are banned from partaking in the presence of Muslims, for whom drinking alcohol remains illegal.

According to the new laws, Sudanese people no longer face prosecution for apostasy, or “abandoning Islam.” Previously, “anyone convicted of renouncing Islam, or apostasy, could face the death penalty,” in Sudan, the BBC reported.

This also supports women’s rights, as “Sharia law forbids a Muslim woman from marrying outside of her religion,” RFI reported. In 2014, a pregnant woman in Sudan named Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag was jailed and sentenced to death for marrying a fellow Christian. Ibrahim’s father was allegedly Muslim, but she was raised by her mother and never practiced the faith. This was not enough to prevent an apostasy charge. Ibrahim gave birth in prison in Sudan before, in response to international pressure, Sudan released her and allowed her family to travel to America.

Until now, Sudan’s “morality police would often carry out public flogging for various misdemeanors,” the BBC reported. On Sunday, Abdulbari announced that this corporal punishment had also been abolished.

Last year, Sudan’s longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was ousted following large-scale street protests; the new reforms represent a continuation of this revolution. A hardline Islamist, al-Bashir had ruled the country under strict Sharia law since 1989.

“[A]n uneasy mixture of those groups which ousted … al-Bashir and his former allies in the military, who ultimately staged a coup against him,” comprise Sudan’s current government, the BBC noted.

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