Gambia’s parliament has passed a bill banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and setting strict penalties for offenders, a month after the president condemned the practice which is carried out on many women in the West African country.
A person who engages in female circumcision could face up to three years in prison or a fine of 50,000 dalasi ($1,250), the new law says. If the act results in death, a person could face life imprisonment, according to the bill which parliament passed recently. President Yahya Jammeh condemned the practice in November, saying it was not mentioned in the Quran.
President Jammeh said: “For 21 years [the number of years he has being in power], I have been researching from the Qur’an and consulting religious leaders whether female circumcision is mentioned in the Qur’an but I did not find it there. While some use Islam to justify the “cut”, people of other faiths throughout Africa perform FGM, pointing to a strong cultural element in the practice.”
Jammeh, a self-acclaimed devout Muslim, recently declared The Gambia an Islamic state (over 90 percent of the country’s population is Muslim).
FGM involves the ritual of removing of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is usually carried out using a blade, with or without anaesthesia. The practice has no health benefits and can come with a range of painful complications. Nineteen countries in Africa have outlawed FGM. More than 130 million women worldwide have been subjected to the painful surgery in Africa and the Middle East; often leading to serious infections, bleeding, infertility, maternal complications and even death in some cases.
A 2013 UNICEF report stated the widespread nature of the practice in numerous African countries, including the Gambia, where 76% of females have been subjected to it. Additionally, in a 2015 report, 28 Too Many, an organization working to end FGM in Africa, noted that by the age of 14, 56% of female children in the country have endured the procedure.
Gambia is the 27th sub-Saharan African country to now have legislation against female genital mutilation, said Dr. Isatou Touray of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children. Activists describe Jammeh’s stance as a welcome surprise.
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