Egypt's House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a cabinet bill amending the law criminalising female genital mutilation (FGM), designating the practice a felony, and mandating stricter legal punishments for those convicted of performing the procedure.
The amendment to the law criminalising FGM, which has been a misdemeanour since 2008, increased prison terms for practitioners who perform the proceduret o between five and seven years instead of the current 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.
Although FGM by its very nature leads to deformity, Egyptian law does not consider the act in itself as leading to "permanent deformity."
The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, a non-governmental organisation, hailed the bill, arguing that it would help curb the spread of the already prevalent practice.
The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey, undertaken by the health ministry, showed that the FGM rate in the reproductive age from 15 to 49 stands at 92 per cent. More than 75 per cent 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.
Last July, Egyptian MP and member of the health committee Ahmed El-Tahawy claimed that from a medical and religious stand, FGM is a necessity as long as it is performed in the right way, adding that religious scholars should decide on that case.
His statement ignited widespread criticism, with human rights bodies slamming his comments as untrue and stressing that FGM is neither religiously nor medically required.
There is a widespread belief in Egypt that women who do not undergo FGM are unable to control their sexual urges and thus would be involved in relationships outside wedlock, which carries a social stigma.
The first FGM conviction was in January 2015, seven years after its criminalisation, when a father and a doctor were convicted of the death of a 13-year-old girl who died during an FGM operation. Others were prosecuted in similar cases later.