Tag Archives: egypt
With the first ever prosecutions underway in the United Kingdom and Guinea-Bissau, an increased focus on strengthening the law in Kenya, and a rare conviction in Uganda, positive moves are being made in various locations to implement laws that ban female genital mutilation (FGM).
Under this increasingly optimistic backdrop, the Nov. 20, 2014 verdict in the case of Soheir al-Batea, a 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing FGM in the Daqahliya Governorate, northeast of Cairo, was particularly disappointing. Both Soheir’s father and the doctor who carried out the mutilation were acquitted, despite the fact that a medical examiner’s report, endorsed by Egypt’s general attorney, confirmed that FGM had taken place. The judge, who was appointed to the case only recently, seemed to discount this unbiased expert evidence and instead acquitted both men through writing in a court ledger.
Egypt has had a tumultuous past in terms of its battle to eliminate FGM. In 2006, its two most senior Islamic clerics stated that FGM has no basis in religion. Following this, in 2007, the country’s medical professionals were banned from performing FGM, after a 12-year-old girl died. It was this ban, backed by legislation introduced in 2008, that was used to prosecute Soheir’s father and doctor in a very similar scenario, six years later. Even with good laws in place, justice can continue to be evasive. If laws are not implemented properly and the judicial system is not transparent, girls like Soheir will continue to fall through the cracks.
According to UNICEF, more than 27.2 million Egyptian women and girls have been affected by FGM. This represents 91 percent of the female population and is the biggest number for any one nationality. Out of an estimated 100 million to 140 million affected by FGM globally, at least one in five is from Egypt. While figures for younger women and adolescent girls seem to be decreasing slowly, this abuse continues to have broad national support from various quarters – including from professionals who are supposed to have a duty of care.
Unfortunately, as well as prevalence, Egypt also leads the world in terms of one of the biggest risks to the global anti-FGM movement – that of the increasing trend toward its medicalization, which fundamentally contradicts WHO guidelines. Incredibly, a 2012 academic document by Egyptian doctor Mohamed Kandil in F1000 Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, suggests there is “insufficient evidence to support the claims” that FGM Type 1 is harmful, when performed by medical practitioners.
UNICEF suggests that 77 percent of the FGM that happens in Egypt is carried out by doctors or other medical professionals – an increase of over 100 percent since 1995. Despite leading the way globally in terms of falls in prevalence, Kenya is also experiencing an increase in the medicalization of FGM. Indonesia has yet to fully ban it, although that country recently revoked its shocking 2010 regulation, which allowed medical professionals to legally perform FGM. In 2010 too, Equality Now succeeded in reversing a decision by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to endorse Type IV FGM, when it suggested changes in the law to allow for a “ritual nick” or pricking of the clitoral skin.
All efforts to permit or make FGM supposedly “safer” conceal the severe violence it represents and hide its lifelong and life-threatening physical, emotional and psychological consequences. Soheir’s death tragically highlights FGM as an extreme violation of the human rights of girls and women with serious health risks, regardless of whether it is performed on her inside or outside a medical establishment.
Without strong messages from the Egyptian government, such as proper implementation of the law and swift punishment for the perpetrators, FGM may become more acceptable, with women’s rights increasingly taking a back seat at all levels. Part of the solution too is ensuring that health care providers are given comprehensive education and training on the health and human rights implications of FGM.
Equality Now is working with local lawyers at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) to ensure that Soheir gets justice at last – justice for one girl, but hopefully setting a precedent to help ensure that countless others are protected. The general prosecutor’s request for an appeal in the case was granted, and proceedings are scheduled to begin on Dec. 15, 2014.
Equality Now is working on the Soheir al-Batea case as part of its Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF), created to help rectify the unique and devastating human rights abuses suffered by girls during adolescence. The AGLDF supports and publicizes strategically selected legal cases, diversified to represent the most common and significant human rights abuses of adolescent girls.
A recent review of the Nigerian constitution has inadvertently sparked controversy over child marriage in the West African country.
The constitution allows Nigerians to renounce their citizenship if they’ve reached “full age,” defined as 18 or older. It further states “Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
A committee tasked with reviewing the document recommended repealing the second provision, but Senator Ahmed Yerima insisted that would discriminate against Muslim women, who he said are considered adults at marriage no matter their age.
The resulting debate over Section 29(4)(b) has put the legality of child marriage squarely in the spotlight, with many claiming that leaving the clause in the country’s constitution legitimizes the practice even though Nigerian law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 (only 23 of its 36 states have adopted that law).
Yerima’s been here before, causing widespread controversy in 2010 when he married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl.
Egypt—where a new TV series tackles the issue of child marriage—would not sign off on the union, but the Nigerian senator managed to get it approved in his own country, where criticism has dogged him ever since.
A recent blog post by Girls Not Brides does a good job of explaining the issue, which is far from resolved.
On the victory front, UNICEF reports that its Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) is having success in curbing child marriage in Afghanistan. This article highlights the case of a 10-year-old girl who was scheduled to marry a 50-year-old man before local officials intervened.
It’s unlikely that the 10-year-old Afghan girl and the 13-year-old Egyptian ever knew each other. But the common denominator in their cases appears to be money.
Yerima reportedly paid his Egyptian driver $100,000 to marry the man’s daughter. In Afghanistan, the 10-year-old’s father, who was struggling to feed his children on $30/month, accepted $9,000 from a wealthy man in exchange for his daughter’s hand.
A local religious leader and member of CPAN who intervened on the 10-year-old’s behalf cited financial problems and misunderstandings about Islamic law as the leading causes of child marriage in his community.
“One of the main reasons for child marriage is poverty, and that forces parents to agree to early marriage,” explained Sultan Mohammad Yusufzai. “The second reason is low awareness amongst families about Islamic principles and human rights.”
Likely, those same issues had more than a little to do with Yerima’s wedding three years ago.
No matter the country, no matter the constitution, no matter the religion, girls ought not be bought and sold.