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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Despite the criminalization of female genital mutilation another life has been claimed

August 26, 2010Reim Leila / Al-Ahram Weekly 

Eradicating female genital mutilation (FGM) is proving difficult, especially in rural areas and Upper Egypt. On 20 August Mushira Khattab, minister of state for family and population, filed a complaint with Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, instigating an investigation into the death of 13-year-old Nermine El-Haddad.

El-Haddad, from the village of Abu Nashaba in Menoufiya, was a pupil at Al-Khatatba preparatory school. She died after severe haemorrhaging following an operation at Menouf Public Hospital last week conducted by Dr Fatheya Mahmoud Eweida. Fearing legal action against them, her parents did not report the incident to the police. Eweida allowed the burial of El-Haddad without a death certificate or an official burial licence, and the incident only came to attention when one of Eweida's colleagues at the hospital phoned the ministry's child rescue hotline (16000).

Following Khattab's complaint, the prosecutor-general ordered the detention of Eweida who will be referred to Menoufiya Criminal Court.

"Eweida will be tried for undertaking an illegal operation and for violating professional ethics," said Khattab.

FGM is an extremely traumatic operation practised on females between four and 14 years. It can result in urine retention, inflammation of the genitals, injury to adjacent tissues, septicemia and infertility. Other side-effects include shock, haemorrhage and infections, all of which are potentially fatal.

Khattab, who has asked Mahmoud to take all legal steps necessary to prosecute those involved in the death of the teenager, stresses that FGM violates human rights and results in possibly serious health risks and death.
The operation is banned under the 2008 Child Law. Eweida could face up to two years in prison and a fine of between LE1,000 and LE5,000. The law, Khattab points out, also penalises parents who allow the operation to be performed on their daughters, with up to two years in prison.

"We must break the wall of silence that surrounds the issue and step up our national campaign to prevent the practice being passed on to the next generation," says Khattab. "Our target is to make it clear that the practice will not be tolerated in Egypt."

The campaign against FGM places special emphasis on southern Egypt and includes awareness sessions and public debates, media campaigns and flyers to explain the dangers of the operation.

"Aswan, Sohag, Minya and Beni Sweif have all signed documents making their refusal of the operation official," says Khattab. "We want to create model villages before extending the experiment to other governorates and eventually the whole country."

In 2005 the first document rejecting the practice, which remains most prevalent in villages, was adopted as part of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood's (NCCM) national programme under the auspices of Mrs Suzanne Mubarak.

In 2007 the Health Ministry issued Decree 271 banning doctors and nurses from performing any FGM operations in public hospitals and private clinics. According to Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahin, the ministerial decree allows private clinics to be closed and any doctors performing the operation to be banned from medical practice for up to five years.

"Eweida will be facing a professional investigation which will determine the penalty she will face," said Shahin.

El-Haddad's death recalls Karima Rahim Masoud, a 13-year-old girl from Mansheyat Al-Yacoubiya village in Gharbiya, and Bedour Shaker, 12, from Minya, both of whom died following the same operation in 2007.

FGM, which involves removing the clitoris, is sanctioned by neither Islam nor Christianity yet remains a common practice in Africa and a number of Arab countries. In Egypt it is estimated that 80 per cent of girls born to poor families are subjected to the operation, and 30 per cent of those born to wealthy parents.