On 22 April, Sudan made female genital mutilation (FGM) a criminal offence punishable by three years in jail. According to the United Nations, nearly nine out of 10 (86.6%) women and girls in Sudan have been victims of female genital mutilation. Though Sudan currently has a transitional government, the law passed last week and states that any procedure of FGM inside or outside a medical facility faces three years in prison and a fine. FGM is prevalent worldwide; according to Al Jazeera, at least 27 African countries as well as parts of Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Europe, the United States, and Latin America practice FGM. The practice is not associated with any particular religion as its practitioners are from many different religious and cultural backgrounds. According to data from 28 Too Many, an anti-FGM activist group, around three quarters of FGM procedures are done by nurses, midwives, and other medical professionals in Sudan.
Faiza Mohamed, Africa regional director for Equality Now, said, “FGM prevalence in Sudan is one of the highest globally. It is now time to use punitive measures to ensure girls are protected from this torturous practice,” to the Thomas Reuters Foundation. She continued, “Having a law against FGM acts as an important deterrent, however, Sudan may face challenges in enforcing the legislation. People who still believe in the practice might not report cases or act to stop FGM when they know it is happening.” Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF’s representative in Sudan, stated, “This practice is not only a violation of every girl child’s rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl’s physical and mental health, [which] is why governments and communities alike must take immediate action to put an end to this practice.” He also added that in order to end FGM, “we need to work very hard with the communities to help enforce the law and promote acceptance of it.”
After years of advocacy, this is a huge step towards ending FGM in Sudan. However, there are many concerns when it comes to the actual affect this law will have. Many people who currently practice FGM simply will not listen to the new law and many law enforcement officials will not enforce it. Due to these risks, simply passing the law is not enough, and continued advocacy and education are necessary in order to end FGM in Sudan and worldwide.
What is FGM?
FGM typically involves removing either some or all of the external female genitalia; this process is also known as “cutting.” In most cases, they remove external genitalia and sew up the vaginal opening. According to Al Jazeera, this practice is known as reinfibulation and health problems associated with it include cysts, damage to urethra, painful sex, and inability to orgasm.
The procedure of female genital mutilation is often very dangerous, even when performed by medical professionals. There are many health complications that come with the practice of FGM as well. Girls can bleed to death and the infection rate is high and sometimes fatal. The procedure can cause complications in childbirth, which can also be fatal.
The passing of this legislation is a landmark move in women’s rights and protection of children in Sudan. This decision is a product of years of advocacy for an end to FGM. This law is a huge step in the right direction and is particularly hopeful given Sudan has some of the highest rates of FGM in the world. That being said, many problems still lie ahead, namely in enforcing the new law. Practitioners of FGM span across many different communities around the world and in Sudan, and these communities might find ways to avoid detection of their continued practicing of FGM. Additionally, if officials in these communities believe and support FGM, they may not enforce the new law. Some people see this law as going against their beliefs and feel it is unjust to enforce. Many of the communities who currently practice FGM believe the procedure is necessary for their daughters to get married. The passage of this law was a leap in the right direction but continued difficulties in enforcing it make the road to completely ending FGM long and difficult.
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