FGM is now a criminal act in Sudan

southern sudan
  • This is a significant victory for women’s rights in a country where nearly nine out of ten girls have undergone some form of female genital mutilation.

Three months after Sudan’s cabinet approved amendments to the criminal code that would criminalise female genital mutilation, the sovereign council ratified the law, saying the practice “undermines the dignity of women”. FGM is widespread in the country and, in recent years, has even spread to remote parts like Nuba mountains where it previously hadn’t been part of the native culture.

According to the United Nations, some 87% of Sudanese women and girls between the ages of 14 and 49 have undergone FGM. The United Nations Children’s Fund welcomed the move calling the practice a violation of a girl child’s rights.

The practice arose out of the belief that this is necessary for girl’s reputations and marriage prospects. Women’s rights activists in the country have been fighting to criminalise this for years but it had time and again been repelled by longtime President Omar Al Bashir, under pressure from Islamic clerics. Bashir was overthrown in April 2019 after a pro-reform movement that was primarily led by women.

The brutal exercise involves the removal of the labia and clitoris and is often performed under unsanitary conditions by unqualified people and, most horrifically, without anaesthesia. The resulting wound creates complications for the rest of the girls’ lives with cysts, infections, pain during sex, difficulties at childbirth and in some cases, even death. In addition to these physical scars, FGM also leaves behind deep psychological wounds on the girls who undergo it.

The new laws punish those who perform FGM with up to three years in prison. Doctors and health workers involved in the barbaric practice are liable to be penalised and health care centres like hospitals and clinics where these are carried out could even be ordered shut. Anti-FGM proponents are celebrating these developments, but with caution. FGM was already illegal in some states in the country but the law was largely ignored. They worry that this will drive the practice underground, making it even more risky.

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