Advancing family values

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 7 Feb 2023

Egypt needs to amend the penal code to impose tougher penalties on female genital mutilation and child marriage.

There has been rise in incidents of family violence since 2002
There has been rise in incidents of family violence since 2002


Speaking during the Senate’s two-day debate on family violence this week, Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj said that “while several laws have been passed in recent years to stem the phenomena of genital mutilation and child marriage they have not been enough to eradicate the practices.”

In rural Egypt some families resort to early marriage without official documentation, which Al-Qabbaj equated with “human trafficking”.

“We are currently in the process of amending the penal code to introduce tougher penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage,” she told senators.

Figures released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics show that genital mutilation among females less than 19 years dropped from 21 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2021. According to Al-Qabbaj, the aim of the government’s current campaign, “Female Genital Mutilation is a Crime”, is to abolish the practice completely.

The campaign began in Egyptian villages and rural areas this week and aims to raise awareness of the dangers of both FGM and child marriage. Continuing until 15 March it provides rural families with information on the negative impact of FGM on women’s health, how it is prohibited by Islam and Christianity and criminalised by the state.

“One message of the campaign is that families that resort to FGM or child marriage will face tougher penalties and be denied access to state subsidies,” said Al-Qabbaj.

In March 2021, the House of Representatives approved changes to Article 242 of the 1937 Penal Code increasing the penalties for FGM. Non-medical individuals involved in performing FGM can now face up to10 years in prison and medical professionals (ie doctors and nurses) up to 15 years.

The ministry is also expanding female-led economic empowerment initiatives, implementing 300,000 small-scale projects at a cost of LE3 billion to raise the incomes of rural women and combat poverty which is one of the main factors in family violence, said Al-Qabbaj.

Minister of Waqf (religious endowments) Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said clerics are using mosques and Friday’s prayers to highlight the problem of family violence and underline that practices like FGM and child marriage are prohibited by Islam.

Moushira Khattab, president of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), urged the passing of the new Personal Status Law. “There is a pressing need for the law to be passed in order to settle family disputes which have become a major source of violence in recent years,” said Khattab.

Senator Mohamed Heiba said the Senate’s study on family violence had illustrated the role social media platforms play in the phenomena.

“We support legislation requiring social media platforms to obtain a licence,” said Heiba. “In recent years, violence within the home has been fanned by people being exposed to violent scenes on social media platforms.”

Senators also complained that drug addiction has fed the spike in family violence and called on the Ministry of Social Solidarity to expand rehabilitation facilities.

The Senate’s study on family violence, jointly prepared by the human rights and social solidarity committees, noted a rise in incidents of family violence since 2002 and said “the coronavirus pandemic and related social distancing measures have made things worse and are largely to blame for the spike in psychological troubles and family violence in the last three years.” There was a 15.1 per cent increase in reported incidents of violence within families in 2022.

“In 2022, financial pressures, particularly low incomes, were a factor in 26.8 per cent of family violence, up from just 10.2 per cent in 2002,” said the report. “Other factors, including psychological troubles and exposure to violence on TV and the social media, also feed the phenomena.”

Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek said the study will be referred to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

“Among the most important recommendations is the need to draft legislation that criminalises family violence and establishes mechanisms that spread a culture of tolerance,” he said.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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