File Photo: A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM) in Upper Egypt- Minya (Photo: Reuters)
A father and a doctor have been convicted for the death of a 13-year-old girl who died after being subjected to female genital mutilation, a verdict that those leading the battle against the practice have described as a significant milestone.
Soheir El-Bataa, from the Nile Delta's Daqahliya governorate, died after a doctor performed the FGM on her in June 2013. An appeal court on Monday sentenced the doctor involved to two years in prison with hard labour on charges of involuntary manslaughter. He was also fined LE500 (around $68).
The doctor also received a three-month prison sentence on charges of carrying out FGM. The girl's father's received a suspended sentence of three years for the same charge. The doctor's clinic where the FGM was performed will be closed for one year by court order.
Vivian Fouad of the National Population Council, an organisation which has long campaigned against the traditional practice, dubbed the verdict "historic."
"This is a strong message to anyone who violates the law, and violates the bodies of girls by performing this illegal practice," she told Ahram Online. This is the first FGM trial since a law banned the practice in 2008.
She added that the verdict proves that the judiciary is "capable of protecting the rights of girls from one of the most violent practices against women in our society."
The doctor will face punishment from the Doctors Syndicate because of the verdict, jeopardising his career and sending a strong message to doctors who violate the ethics of their profession, she said.
In November, a misdemeanour court acquitted both the father and doctor and said the criminal case had "expired" after "reconciliation," and ruled that the doctor must pay LE5,000 as compensation to the mother, who is the plaintiff.
Although illegal, female genital mutilation is still widely prevalent in Egypt, with 91 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 subjected to the practice according to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), under the supervision of the health ministry.
The study showed that FGM was more prevalent in rural communities than in cities – 96 percent of girls in the countryside had undergone FGM, as opposed to 85 percent in urban environments.
The numbers from 2008 are down by 15 percent among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 as compared to the same EDHS study from 2005, a sign of progress.
Fouad said that while anti-FGM laws are important, awareness of the cause and dangers of this practice are also vital.
"The National Population Council is currently putting adverts on television to generate more awareness of the dangers of this practice," she added.
Both the Coptic Orthodox Church and Al-Azhar, Egypt's highest Sunni authority, have forbidden the practice, which involves the removal of the clitoris and is often conducted in unsanitary conditions.