Tag Archives: Soheir al-Batea
It took a year and a half to get justice for Soheir al-Batea, the 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) in June 2013.
Both the doctor who performed the deadly procedure and Soheir’s father were acquitted in November 2014 of causing her death, but last week, an appeals court overturned that decision, handing Soheir’s father a three-month suspended sentence and sentencing the doctor to two years in jail for manslaughter plus three months for performing the outlawed operation. The doctor’s clinic was also closed for one year.
Perhaps one of the most shocking facts about Soheir’s case was the fact that a doctor—a licensed medical professional bound by the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm”—performed the procedure that led to Soheir’s death.
In fact, more than 75 percent of the FGM performed in Egypt is carried out by doctors, despite a 2007 ban, and Egypt isn’t the only country where medical professionals violate the rights of women and girls in this manner. The so-called medicalization of FGM has occurred in Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Sudan, Mali and Yemen, among others, despite the fact that there is no medical benefit to the procedure.
Today, as we mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, health workers all over the world are being asked not only to halt the practice in their own clinics but to actively lobby against it and provide care and support to survivors. It’s estimated that more than 140 million women and girls have undergone some sort of FGM, and, according to the United Nations, more than 18 percent of them have been subjected to the procedure at the hands of a health-care provider.
To combat those statistics, leading health organizations have joined with key human rights groups to push for an end to the practice within a generation. Among them: the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
“It is imperative that all involved in women’s health protect the women and girls in their care and do what they can to spread awareness amongst their colleagues,” said Dr. David Richmond of the, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “As an international medical body, we have members based in countries where FGM is still practiced, and I would urge them to uphold the Hippocratic Oath.”
Every year, 3 million girls are at risk of FGM, which can cause severe bleeding and other dangerous health consequences, including cysts, infertility, complications with childbirth and increased chance of newborn deaths. According to the UN, FGM is primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, but is also prevalent in Asia and Latin America. In addition, the practice persists among some immigrant populations in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
“Stopping this terrible and violent assault on girls and young women is as relevant here in the UK as it is throughout other parts of the world,” said Cathy Warwick, chief executive of The Royal College of Midwives. “It is through working together with colleagues in other countries and applying pressure that we will end this practice.”
You don’t have to be a medical professional to join the fight against FGM. To participate in Zero Tolerance Day and ensure that no other girls have to suffer like Soheir:
- Visit the new website for The Girl Generation, a global campaign that supports the Africa-led movement to end FGM, where you’ll find compelling stories and stunning photos illustrating this push for change. You can also check out their Facebook page and Twitter account.
- Raise your voice on social media using the hashtags #EndFGM, #TogetherToEndFGM and #TheGirlGeneration.
- Join Tostan, Girls’ Globe and Johnson & Johnson on Twitter for a live chat today at 8 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) by following @JNJGlobalHealth and #FGCchat
- If you’re in Kenya, keep an eye out for the “Together to End FGM” event happening today in Samburu. The Girl Generation will live tweet the event on its account, @TheGirlGen
- Support women and girls who have been impacted by FGM by visiting forma.
- Visit Forward, a group committed to safeguarding the rights of African girls and women and ending child marriage, FGM and obstetric fistula; the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on traditional practices, which is establishing policies to stop FGM in Africa; and the Africa Coordinating Centre for the Abandonment of FGM/C (ACCAF)
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.