Egypt has implemented an amended law that toughens repercussions for individuals who carry out female genital mutilation (FGM), a cultural practice that has roots in ancient Egypt and reportedly still affects more than 90 percent of women in the Muslim-majority African country.
The nation’s health ministry reportedly announced the enactment of the amendment, which increases punishment for FGM to felony charges, with up to 15 years in prison, from a misdemeanor, with a maximum of three years behind bars.
The government this week told both state and privately-run health facilities that medics who carry out the procedure could now face up to 15 years in jail. Parents who subject their daughters to circumcision could get a three-year prison sentence.
“The prosecutor general issued a memo to all prosecutors, emphasizing the importance of investigating all FGM cases,” Mayssa Shawky, the deputy health minister, told CNN.
Prior to the amendment, the law considered FGM a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
Authorities rarely applied the punishment, notes CNN, adding that “only two cases involving FGM-related deaths were referred to court since the law was issued in 2008.”
“In light of the recent amendments, passed in the parliament in August, FGM is now considered a felony, with a minimum penalty of five years in prison,” points out CNN.
According to the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey, the latest Egyptian government study, 92 percent of women, between 15 and 49 years old, have been subjected to FGM.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes FGM as “all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Some experts believe FGM originated in ancient Egypt, predating both Christianity and Islam.
Others, such as Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, claim the practice likely began in sub-Saharan Africa and later spread to ancient Egypt.
Although FGM is reportedly practiced by adherents of Islam and Christianity alike, it is “prevalent in some majority Muslim countries,” notes the Middle East Forum (MEF).
MEF reports that although “many Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice is not rooted in religion, but rather in culture,” individuals who perform that practice “at the village level… believe it to be religiously mandated,” adding that “religion is not only theology but also practice.”
One thing certain about FGM is that it comes at a tremendous cost to many girls who bleed to death or perish from infections.