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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hope as law to prohibit genital mutilation is tabled

July 2, 2009 By Maria Jurua ON April 29, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi moved a motion in Parliament to prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM). A law that prohibits FGM is of obvious merit; it is part of a continuous process of the campaign to abolish the practice once and for all. Several countries around the world have outlawed FGM with explicit laws banning the practice. Currently, Guinea, Ghana, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Togo, Senegal, US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the UK prohibit FGM. Genital mutilation represents gender-based violence and is a harmful traditional practice that violates women's rights to non-discrimination. Due to a series of possible short and long-term health effects, victims of FGM are denied fundamental human rights to life, freedom from torture, health, liberty and security of the person, privacy, religious freedom and freedom from discrimination. Girls subjected to the procedure are denied additional rights defined in the Constitution. The girls are also denied rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child, agreements to which Uganda is signatory. Uganda's move to legislative action specifically addressing FGM places the country in line with its international obligations under numerous international treaties. Although Ugandan law includes provisions regarding grievous harm, maiming, unlawful wounding and freedom from harmful practices, it does not include an explicit ban on FGM. A national prohibition on FGM is the best way to ensure that individuals who force girls and women to undergo FGM will be adequately punished under the law. An explicit law banning FGM is essential because the current legal provisions have not been and are not likely to be employed to combat the practice. Specific legislation serves to extinguish any doubt within the general community as to the illegality of FGM, by officially stating that the practice of FGM will not be tolerated. This is of particular importance in Uganda given previous doubts as to the adequacy and clarity of the law that can be used under the Penal Code. Legislation can provide legal protection and support to women and children who wish to resist the practice within their communities. Legislative action is not, however, without its critics. Nevertheless, many of the arguments voiced against legislation merely support the provisions of relevant international instruments such as the Declaration on Violence Against Women (1993) that in order for legislation to be effective, it must be accompanied by a broad and inclusive strategy for community-based education and awareness-raising. What should the proposed law entail? Prosecuting and punishing FGM would not be effective unless the proposed specific law contained the following principles: - Provision of a specific offence of FGM. - Creation of an offence where FGM is done by a medical doctor or any other health worker. This will be able to cover cases where victims are taken to doctors to carry out FGM. - Provision of compensation by the offender to the victim for the costs and injuries. - Rejection of consent on behalf of the victim and belief, custom, ritual or tradition as valid defenses. This provision will be in line with a number of international agreements that discredit culture and tradition as valid defenses. - Protection to victims of FGM. - Provision of a role for civil society Organisations and other victim support agencies to victims of FGM. This is because non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Law-Uganda and REACH programme have been highly proactive in seeking to protect girls from FGM. Consequently, these NGOs need to be adequately provided with resources to advocate for the implementation of the law. - Regulation of extra territorial jurisdiction in order to close all the loopholes of carrying out genital mutilation in other countries. Imposition of a duty to a member of the health worker, medical doctor or practitioner and community, who knows that any person has committed or intends to commit FGM, to report the matter to the Police or other authority for appropriate action. It should be noted that effective implementation of a specific law prohibiting FGM is closely linked to knowledge and attitudes of professionals about particular groups that practice FGM, the practice itself, its different types, as well as to their knowledge of the laws and child protection procedures to follow in case a girl is at risk. It is, therefore, Law-Uganda's fervent hope that the proposed law will not be a symbolic gesture, but will serve as a tool for child protection, community education and empowerment.