Sudan bans Female Genital Mutilation; Experts show concern

In a move celebrated as a major victory by women’s rights and human rights activists, Sudan criminalised the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The amendment to the criminal law was approved on 22 April, the BBC reported. The amendment was brought by Sudan’s transitional government, which came to power only last year.

The practice of FGM is widely pevalent in Africa, and only more so in Sudan. Around 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14-49 had undergone the genital mutilation, according to the UN.

The practice involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, and poses a bunch of health hazards including urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues along with pain during sex. The sexual and health complications may even turn out to be fatal. A 2014 UNICEF report indicated that most girls (66%) were cut aged 5-9. The motivation for the practice lies in the widespread cultural and religious belief that the genital mutilation is important for the girl child’s future marriage prospects.

According to the new law, anyone who practices Female Genital Mutilation could face a term of upto 3 years in prison and a fine. The minister for religious affairs, Nasr al-Din Mufreh said that “It is a practice that time, place, history and science have shown to be outdated”, adding that it had no justification in Islam. The minister further said that he supported the goal of eliminating the practice completely by 2030.

Banning FGM has been a global trend. (Credits: www.kingdomfmonline.com)
Banning FGM has been a global trend. (Credits: www.kingdomfmonline.com)

Although the practice was hailed by human rights activists all across the world, many experts also express their concern over the applicability of the ban. They fear that the criminalisation of FGM may lead the practice to continue underground.

Faiza Mohamed, Africa regional director for Equality Now warned that “Having a law against FGM acts as an important deterrent, however, Sudan may face challenges in enforcing legislation. People who still believe in the practice might not report cases or act to stop FGM when they know it is happening.”

Earlier attempts in the continent to delegitimize the practice of FGM have not always seen success. For example, FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008 and a 2016 amendment criminalised the practice. In Egypt, according to 2013 UNICEF data 91% of women aged 14-41 were cut. However, even after the ban and the subsequent criminalisation of the practice Egypt has not seen much FGM-prosecutions and the operations still continue silently.

Sudan itself has a history of trying to ban the practice, but to no avail. A Sudanese legislation against a specific category of Female Gential Mutilation was brought about as early as 1946, but unfortunately it was met with wide ignorance. In fact, with the introduction of Sharia Law in Sudan in 1983, the legislation was completely removed. Subsequent attempts to criminalize FGM, since then, have also failed, including the National Child Act of 2009.

Noting that it will be difficult to implement the law, female rights activists celebrate the move.