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HRW hails Egypt's new harsher penalties against FGM, says more reform needed

Egypt's parliament approved a bill criminalizing FGM and increases prison terms for practitioners

Ahram Online , Friday 9 Sep 2016
FGM
File Photo: A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM) in Upper Egypt- Minya (Photo: Reuters)
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Human Rights Watch has hailed a move by Egypt's parliament to stiffen punishments for carrying out female genital mutilation, calling the move "a step toward eliminating the practice" but demanding further reforms.

Egypt's parliament approved on 31 August a cabinet bill criminalising FGM, which has been a misdemeanor since 2008. The amendment increased prison terms for practitioners who perform the procedure to five to seven years instead of three months to two years.

The amendment also imposes a stricter penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment if the practice leads to death or a "permanent deformity."

Those who "escort" victims to the procedure can also face jail sentences ranging from one to three years.

The rights organization however said further reform is needed.

"Broader law reform is needed to adequately combat this horrific practice, and all such laws should be enforced to protect tens of thousands of girls at risk,” Rothna Begum, Middle East women's rights researcher at HRW said in a Friday press release.

HRW criticised the amendment for retaining "an unnecessary reference" to Article 61 which, according to the statement, allows for dropping charges if a defendant committed a crime because of an immediate and grievous danger to themselves or a third party.

"Retaining this clause may encourage judges to drop charges in these cases" Human Rights Watch said.

"The parliament should revise the amendments to eliminate this clause."

The report further highlighted a UNICEF recommendation to focus on "preventive and protective measures" rather than punishment.

The statement recommended that the law should be accompanied by broader reforms that strengthen Egypt's 2015 national strategy to end FGM.

"Egypt should enact legislation to guarantee funding and other resources for a comprehensive response, including prevention programs aimed at changing social attitudes that condone the practice," the statement added.

The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey, undertaken by the health ministry, showed that the FGM rate among women aged 15 to 49 stands at 92 percent. More than 75 percent of cases are of girls aged from nine to 12 while 14 per cent are aged seven or younger, which indicates that the vast majority of Egyptian families circumcise their daughters.

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