Egypt’s cabinet approved on Sunday a draft bill designating the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) a felony, raising prison terms for those convicted of performing the procedure, health minister Ahmed Emad announced.
Emad said that the new bill amends the law criminalising FGM, currently a misdemeanour, by stiffening penalties to between five and seven years in prison instead of the current three months to two years for practitioners who perform the procedure.
Those who "escort" victims to the procedure can also face jail sentences ranging from one to three years.
The bill, which has been sent to parliament for ratification, also carries a stiffened penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment if the practice leads to death or a "permanent deformity."
Although FGM by its very nature leads to deformity, Egyptian law does not consider the act in itself as leading to "permanent deformity."
The health minister said that the current FGM rate in Egypt is 91 percent, despite the law passed in 2008 criminalising the practice.
He added that the entrenched tradition can only be combated through laws criminalising the practice, especially since the procedure is often performed by people who are not licensed medical practitioners.
There is a widespread belief in Egypt that women who do not undergo FGM are unable to control their sexual urges.
In January 2015, a doctor was sentenced to two years in prison for involuntarily killing a teenage girl by performing the FGM procedure, while the girl's father was given a three-month suspended sentence. The case was the country's first instance of FGM prosecution.
The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey showed that the FGM rate in the reproductive age from 15 to 49 stands at 92 percent. More than 75 percent of cases are of girls aged from nine to 12 while 14 percent are aged 7 or younger, which indicates that the vast majority of Egyptian families circumcise their daughters.
A previous study by the health ministry suggested that FGM is more prevalent in rural communities than in cities, stating that roughly 96 percent of girls in rural communities had undergone FGM, as opposed to 85 percent in urban areas.