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EGYPT: Parliament criminalizes female circumcision

June 9, 2008 |  9:15 am

Symposium_wideweb__470x3180_2After weeks of heated deliberations, the Egyptian parliament on Saturday passed new pieces of legislation that impose relatively harsh legal restrictions on female circumcision and allow women for the first time to register their babies even if the father’s identity is unknown.

One law imposes a sentence of a maximum of two years and a fine of a maximum of $1,000 for performing female genital mutilation.  This issue has caused much stir in the people’s assembly, especially among the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds one-fifth of the parliamentary seats. Conservatives maintain that Islam condones the removal of a girl’s clitoris to tame her sexual desires and condemn the amendment as a western import. 

Attention-getting opposition to the bill came from an ostensibly secular MP a couple of weeks ago. Mohamed El-Omda, a member of a marginal opposition party, appeared before the people's assembly with his three daughters to protest the ban. One of his young daughters raised a banner reading: “No to any attempt to forbid what is divinely allowed. No to any attempt to allow what is divinely forbidden.”  El-Omda said that two of his daughters were already circumcised.

Although it was banned years ago, female genital mutilation remains widely practiced in Egypt. About 70% of Egyptian girls are believed to have undergone it. The promulgation of the new penalties came on the heels of the death of a 12-year-old girl in Upper Egypt while undergoing the procedure last summer. 

Under the new law, female circumcision remains allowable in cases of “medical necessity.”

The other new legislation granted women the right to receive birth certificates for their babies without necessarily giving the father's name. Under the old law, women could not register their out-of-wedlock children. According to women's rights activists, even married mothers face difficulties if they go to register their children without the father.

Islamists dismissed the amendment as enabling the proliferation of prostitution. “If woman carries a child and nobody knows who his father is, this means she is a prostitute,” contended a Muslim Brotherhood MP during the deliberations.

The bill’s proponents argued that a child should not be caught in the middle of parental feuds and had the right to receive a birth certificate. The amendment may help solve the problem of thousands of children whose fathers refuse to acknowledge them. According to official figures, there were 14,000 paternity cases in Egyptian courts in 2005.

—Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: A poster opposing female genital mutilation in Egypt.

Photo credit: Newscom

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