The Sudanese government has approved an amendment to its criminal legislation, stating that anyone who performs Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) either inside a medical establishment or elsewhere faces three years in jail and a fine.
Up until now, it was a common practice in Sudan for women to get the inner and outer labia, and usually, the clitoris removed, a practice which can result in urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues and pain during sex.
FGM was already illegal in some Sudanese states, but these bans were widely ignored. Criminalizing FGM, according to activists, will usher in a new era in the predominantly Muslim country where 87% of its women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM, the United Nations stated.
In spite of the latest development, women’s right groups believe it will be difficult to change minds in communities that view the traditional practice as necessary to marry their daughters.
“FGM prevalence in Sudan is one of the highest globally. It is now time to use punitive measures to ensure girls are protected from torturous practice,” Faiza Mohamed, Africa regional director for Equality Now, said.
According to her, 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”.
She warned that communities may look for ways to avoid detection while officials, who believe in the practice may not uphold the law.
“There is so much work to be done. This is a start, a good start,” said Fatma Naib, communication officer of the UN children’s agency, Unicef, in Sudan. “The crucial step will be to ensure there are consequences for those who perform the cut on their girls.”
UNICEF representative in Sudan, Abdullah Fadil, said the practice is not only a violation of every girl child’s rights, but it is also harmful and has serious consequences for a girl’s physical and mental health. “This is why governments and communities alike must take immediate action to put an end to this practice.”
Sudan has been applauded for criminalising FGM. The UK’s international development secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, tweeted: “In our turbulent world, fantastic to see the new government in #Sudan outlawing female genital mutilation. There is no place for #FGM in the 21st century.”
In our turbulent world, fantastic to see the new government in #Sudan outlawing Female Genital Mutilation. There is no place for #FGM in the 21st century. @BorisJohnson @WHO @NimkoAli https://t.co/GIsEXcZ80o— Anne-Marie Trevelyan #StayHomeSaveLives (@annietrev) May 1, 2020
According to the UN, an estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in 31 countries – 27 of which are in Africa. Yet, a report published in March said the number could be much higher as the practice is carried out in more than 90 countries, many of which do not collect data. World leaders have pledged to eliminate FGM by 2030.