In a historic move, Sudan has criminalized the act of female genital mutilation (FGM). United Nations notes that in the country 9 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 to 49 have been subjected to the practice, making it one of the worst so far FGM goes. Under the law, offenders will serve a sentence of up to three years in prison.
The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as involving “the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”
Across country this law has been controversial with many women and men defending it. Indian lawyers note that while our law has many provisions against criminal action, violence “there is no specific mention of FGM in our laws” and that’s the reason the practice goes unnoticed. Cultural aspects of specific communities has also made it difficult for this to be turned into a law thus far. Additionally, globally countries have had to specifically ban this practise and hence create a specific law dealing with the subject for any actionable law to exist.
Where Are We on this in India?
The case is still with the courts. In September 2018, the Supreme Court referred the discussion on FGM to a five-judge Constitution Bench seeking a declaration that the practice of female circumcision amounts to “female genital mutilation” and is a violation of women’s right to life and dignity.
Even though there have been efforts and debates to abandon the practice, FGM remains widespread in different parts of the world. Over 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM. This is known to be widespread in Africa, Middle East and Latin America and also to an extent in India. FGM is common amongst the Bohra community, where the ritual is referred to as “Khatna” and is performed by cutting the tip of a girl’s clitoris when she is 6-7 years old. It’s normally done by women who do this professionally in the community or from an experienced family member.
In May 2017 a public interest litigation (PIL) case was raised in India’s Supreme Court. The case was filed by Sunita Tiwari, a lawyer based in Delhi, seeking a ban on FGM in India. The Supreme Court received the petition and sought responses from four states and four ministries of the central government.
Recommendation by the Lawyers Collective are as follows:
- Since within the Bohra community, it is primarily the parents who take their daughters to cutters for FGM, they should be the first category of perpetrators who may be held accountable
- The procedure is primarily carried out by ‘traditional cutters’ or, in some cases, ‘medical professionals’, they should be the next category of perpetrators who may be held accountable
- In the case of FGM, the process is generally carried out when the girls are minors, the average age being 7, and they do not possess the ability to understand what is being done to them. Hence, the right to a legal remedy must be made available up to a reasonable time period after the commission of the act of FGM. It is recommended that a victim should be given at least three years of time after the commission of FGM to file a complaint against those who subjected her to it.