Roger writing the LAWmag

Better Late Than Never

Which of the following occurred recently:

(a) Marconi sends wireless messages across the Atlantic;

(b) Neanderthal man invents the wheel; and

(c) Egypt bans female circumcision.

It was (c) and it happened in June of 2007, after years of hard work by Egypt’s Suzanne Mubaruk (pictured; both her parents were medical professionals), and the wife of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubaruk.Suzanne Mubarak

This, in the tragic aftermath of a 12-year old girl dying during the operation, a bizarre and barbaric rite of passage amongst select religious groups; to protect a girl’s chastity. Removing the clitoris prevents a woman from the "inevitable" urge towards promiscuity and prevents child pregnancies.

Ninety per cent of Egyptian women are circumcised; compare with Kenya where the figure is 38%.

According to the World Health Organization:

"In the world today there are an estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women who have been subjected to the operation. Currently, about 3 million girls, the majority under 15 years of age, undergo the procedure every year.. In the United States it is estimated that about ten thousand girls are at risk of this practice."

The  Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995 provides:

"In the United States it is estimated that about ten thousand girls are at risk of this practice." whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this ti tle or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both."

Adds the Female Genital Cutting Society, based in Tallassee, Florida: "10,000 girls are at risk of this practice" in the USA alone. Other groups put this number at 17,000.

Jurist reported on November 1, 2006 that:

"A Georgia found Ethiopian immigrant Khalid Adem guilty of sexually mutilating his then-two-year-old daughter and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Adem was tried on charges of cruelty to children and aggravated battery after a doctor discovered Adem's daughter had her clitoris removed, allegedly with a pair of scissors."

The most extreme form, and this should come with a censorship warning - it is not for the faint of heart - is described as follows:

"This most extreme form, consists of the removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora), and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband. Hosken also reports that infibulation is "practiced on all females, almost without exception, in all of Somalia and wherever ethnic Somalis live (Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti). It is also performed throughout the Nile Valley, including Southern Egypt, and all along the Red Seas Coast."

Most subjects (victims?) are between the ages of 5 and 15. Adds the WHO, "50% of those in Ethiopia, Mali and Mauritania were under 5 years of age."

The Egyptian legislative initiative is welcome as it stands as a beacon for democratic rights in the African continent. But laws do not seem to be the problem. WHO says that "half of the 28 countries where the practice is endemic have introduced legislation forbidding it.... Applying the law, however, is another matter: a study published in 2000 found that prosecutions had been brought in only four of the 28."

Another suspected problem: some women glorify it.

Other worry that an outright ban would prevent adult women from opting for circumcision on themselves.

Another more recent twist: Alan Whiteside, a South African AIDS researcher, has publicly stated that female circumcision ought to be considered as a weapon against the spread of the disease. The BBC reports him as having told an AIDS conference held mid-July 2007: "It is so blindingly obvious that there are real reasons for circumcision."

The law works its magic slowly even though law as ancient as Justinian's Institutes held that spoliatus debet ante omnia restitui (the despoiled ought to be restored before anything else). All rights and freedoms, the fruits of mature legal systems, have all come at the hard and slow price of lives, mutilation and suffering. The news from Cairo is but a step along the way but a step along the way. As my Dad used to tell me, it takes a hundred pennies to make a dollar bill.

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Posted in Human Rights, International Law
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