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BMJ. 2007 July 7; 335(7609): 15.
PMCID: PMC1910627

Egypt tightens ban on female genital mutilation after 12 year old girl dies

Egypt has announced that it is imposing a complete ban on female genital mutilation. The ban was imposed last week by the Ministry of Health after a public outcry over the death of a 12 year old girl, Budour Ahmad Shaker, who died from an overdose of anaesthetic while being circumcised.

After the much publicised death of the girl, the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights appealed to the government for a law that would criminalise the practice and that would “punish doctors who commit this crime, and close clinics and hospital that continue to practice practise it.” [note to ed: presumably this was translated, so English spelling is OK] The doctor who had carried out the circumcision on the girl has been arrested, and the clinic where it took place has been closed down.

In Egypt 75% of female genital mutilation is carried out by doctors and nurses, and 25% are carried out by birth attendants, or “dayas,” most of whom are poorly qualified. Subsequent death from various causes, including bleeding and infections, is common.

In a statement, the minister for health said that any genital cutting “will be viewed as a violation of the law, and those carrying it out will be punished.” In addition Egypt's religious cleric, or “mufti,” has publicly denounced the practice saying it is “haram,” or forbidden in Islam.

Although female genital mutilation was officially banned in Egypt in 1997, legal loopholes allowed the practice, which is entrenched in Egyptian culture, to continue.

Mary Assad, coordinator of the Egyptian Female Genital Mutilation Taskforce, was optimistic, saying that with the new ban “Egypt is now on the right track of changing social structure.” She added that the minister and the mufti's statements, coupled with the increased awareness at grass roots' level, will give Egypt “a big push towards the beginning of the end.”

But Mrs Assad warned that “change will not take place overnight” because the procedure has been practised for more than 2000 years in Egypt, with women having their daughters circumcised because of family tradition.

Female genital mutilation is the cutting off of some or all of the female external genitals, resulting in reduced or no sexual feeling. It is thought necessary to secure a husband, prevent “misbehaviour,” and guarantee virginity at marriage.

A national demographic and health survey carried out in 2003 found that 97% of women aged 15-49 years had been circumcised, and 49% had inflicted the same fate on their daughters.

Cristiana Scoppa, head of communication activities for female genital mutilation prevention programmes at the Italian Association for Women in Development, pointed out that these statistics “signify that Egypt is changing for the better” because 52% of mothers had not yet have their daughters circumcised, and 31% of women who had not cut their daughters yet said they may or may not have their daughters circumcised in the future.

“It is important to work on this percentage, as preventing these mothers from cutting their daughters will bring about a huge change quickly,” said Ms Scoppa. “Working on better information on women's sexuality, education, and behaviour is key at such a time when Egyptian society is ripe for change,” said Ms Scoppa.

She explained that for the new ban to work the government needs to allocate resources to campaigning and supporting organisations that “are in touch with real people, in order to change the mentality.”

Ms Scoppa added that the ban needs to be respected by the people, or the penile penal laws will only serve to push the practice underground. [Note to ed: good old Freudian slip…]

Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and who heads the committee of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, has played an active role in pushing the practice out of Egypt, calling it a “national priority.”

In 2003 Mrs Mubarak chaired a conference on tools of prevention of female genital mutilation, organized by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Italian Association for Women in Development. She said, “It is totally unacceptable to subjugate such small girls in this way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and to force them to go through this cruel experience.”

A conference on international population and development held in Egypt in 1994 showed footage of a young girl being circumcised. It caused uproar in the international community and brought the practice into the limelight. The recent death of Budour may have served the same purpose.


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