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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Electronic Resources > Other Reports > Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) > 2001

I. Laws/Enforcement in Countries where FGM is Commonly Practiced

A number of countries where FGM is commonly practiced have laws specifically prohibiting it. However, the quality of these laws and breadth of protection afforded by them varies from marginal (e.g. Togo) to good (e.g. Burkina Faso and Ghana). Some countries have laws that, while not specifically addressing FGM, could be used against this practice. The majority of countries, however, do not have any laws against FGM. (See chart at end of report, which also includes information about outreach programs in all the countries.) Nine of the countries discussed below have specific national laws against FGM. Some of the countries have passed laws against this practice at the state and local levels. Nigeria, while having no national law, has a number of state laws against the practice. Likewise, one administration in Somalia, Puntland, has passed a law against FGM. Egypt, while having no national law against the practice, has a ministerial decree banning the practice.

Even in those countries where laws do exist, however, there have been very few instances of adjudicated cases (and punishment of the excisors). Enforcement of laws regarding FGM is extremely lax in most countries or even non-existent. Furthermore, the cultural norms in these countries or regions often render women unwilling to step forward and discuss FGM (let alone seek protection or compensation under the law). The following country-specific discussions bear this out.

    1.  Burkina Faso

    A law prohibiting FGM was enacted in 1996 and went into effect in February 1997. Even before this law, however, a presidential decree had set up the National Committee against excision and imposed fines on people guilty of excising girls and women. The new law includes stricter punishment.

    Under the law, a person who performs FGM can receive a prison sentence of six months to three years and/or a fine of from 150,000 to 900,000 francs (approximately US$240-1,440). If death follows, the prison sentence is five to ten years. Similar sentences are applicable to those who request, incite to FGM or promote it either by providing money, goods, moral support or all other means.

    Penalties will be applied to the fullest extent of the law if the guilty party belongs to the medical or para-medical corps. The judge can additionally forbid the guilty party from practicing his or her profession for a maximum of five years.

    The law imposes a fine of from 50,000 to 100,000 francs (approximately US$80-160) on all persons who knew the criminal behavior was to take place and did not warn the proper authorities.

    Since the adoption of this law, there have been 60 convictions of both excisors and accomplices, resulting in sentences of imprisonment or fines. Imprisonment for excisors has ranged from one to ten months. One excisor received a ten-month jail sentence for cutting two girls. Accomplices have also received prison terms. Both have received fines of from 10,000 to 50,000 francs (approximately US$15-80). In a number of cases, prison sentences were suspended.

    2.  Central African Republic

    In 1996, the President issued an Ordinance prohibiting FGM throughout the country. It has the force of national law. Any violation of the Ordinance is punishable by imprisonment of from one month and one day to two years and a fine of 5,100 to 100,000 francs (approximately US$8-160). We are unaware of any arrests made under the law.

    3.  Cote d’Ivoire

    A December 18, 1998 law provides that harm to the integrity of the genital organ of a woman by complete or partial removal, excision, desensitization or by any other procedure will, if harmful to a women's health, be punishable by imprisonment of one to five years and a fine of 360,000 to two million francs (approximately US$576-3,200). The penalty is five to twenty years incarceration if the victim dies and up to five years' prohibition of medical practice, if this procedure is carried out by a doctor.

    Before the 1998 law was enacted, existing provisions of the Criminal Code could be used to prohibit this practice. However, despite laws on the books governing crimes against the person, there were no Ivoirian cases of women challenging the practice in court.

    Before the adoption of the 1998 law, the possibility of enforcing a law at the village level where the practice is most likely to take place was almost nil. The powerful association of this practice with religion and witchcraft made reporting and prosecuting excisors virtually impossible. Furthermore, the government had no interest in imposing the existing laws on unwilling families and antagonizing village elders and chiefs who are the guardians of tradition. This has begun to change.

    Following the adoption of the law in 1998, the government and the various NGOs and institutions fighting this practice gave themselves some time to pursue information and education campaigns before requesting the enforcement of the law. In 1999, the Ivoirian Association for the Defense of Women's Rights (AIDJ) launched an intensive campaign aimed at informing the population, law enforcement authorities and local government officials of the existence of the law.

    The campaign gathered momentum when AIDF’s president was appointed Minister of Family and the Promotion of Women in January 2000. During 2000, her Ministry and AIDF held several seminars in the regions where the practice is most prevalent, working primarily with police officers and gendarmes, administrative authorities (Prefects and Sub-Prefects), as well as traditional, political and religious authorities.

    AIDF focused on information dissemination and enforcement of the new law. The Minister received additional support from the Ministries of Interior and Security. In addition to the formal seminars, the Minister used every opportunity, such as the inauguration of economic projects, to talk to women and local authorities about the negative impact on women of harmful traditional practices. The Minister also initiated a basic management training and small economic projects implementation program for excisors willing to abandon the practice. The first beneficiaries of this program were women from Bangolo in the west and women from Kaniasso in the north.

    As a result of this campaign, several excisors were arrested for performing this procedure in the north during 2000. Prior to these arrests, the arrest and prosecution of parents or of excisors only occurred following the death of the excised person. Two excisors from Guinea were arrested in Abobo on May 6, 2000 and jailed following the death of a young Burkinabe girl who had been excised. On July 12, 2000, two Ivoirian women were arrested in Kongasso and jailed in Seguela, in the north, for having excised girls aged 10-14.

    4.  Djibouti

    FGM was outlawed in the country’s revised Penal Code that went into effect in April 1995. Article 333 of the Penal Code provides that persons found guilty of this practice will face a five year prison term and a fine of one million Djibouti francs (approximately US$5,600).

    Enforcement to date is quite another matter. The UNFD (Union Nationale des Femmes de Djibouti) is aware of only one case in which a young woman had to be hospitalized after undergoing the operation where the "midwife" who performed the operation was given "counsel". She was advised not to continue her practice. Apparently, no formal charges were brought.

    5.  Egypt

    There is no law in Egypt specifically against FGM. There are provisions under the Penal Code involving "wounding" and "intentional infliction of harm leading to death", however, that might be applicable. There have been some press reports on the prosecution of at least 13 individuals under the Penal Code, including doctors, midwives and barbers, accused of performing FGM that resulted in hemorrhage, shock and death.

    There also is a ministerial decree prohibiting FGM. In December 1997, the Court of Cassation (Egypt’s highest appeals court) upheld a government banning of the practice providing that those who do not comply will be subjected to criminal and administrative punishments.

    Issued as a decree by the Health Minister in 1996, the ban prohibits all medical and non-medical practitioners from performing FGM in either public or private facilities, except for medical reasons certified by the head of a hospital's obstetric department. We are unaware of any instance where this practice was certified. Perpetrators are subject to the loss of their medical licenses and can be subjected to criminal punishments. In cases of death, perpetrators are also subject to charges of manslaughter under the Penal Code.

    6.  Ghana

    In 1989, the head of the government of Ghana, President Rawlings, issued a formal declaration against FGM and other harmful traditional practices. Article 39 of Ghana’s Constitution also provides in part that traditional practices that are injurious to a person’s health and well being are abolished.

    In 1994, Parliament amended the Criminal Code to include the offense of FGM. Section 69A provides that whoever excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of the labia minora, labia majora and the clitoris of another person commits an offense and is guilty of a second degree felony and is liable on conviction to imprisonment of not less than three years.

    There have been seven arrests under this law since 1994 and at least two practitioners have been successfully prosecuted and convicted. In March 1995, police arrested and charged the practitioner of FGM on an eight year old girl and the parents of the girl under the law. In June 1998, a practitioner was sentenced to three years in prison for having performed this procedure on three girls.

    There is the opinion by some that the law has driven the practice underground.

    7.  Guinea

    FGM is illegal in Guinea under Article 265 of the Penal Code. The punishment is hard labor for life and if death results within 40 days after the crime, the perpetrator will be sentenced to death. No cases regarding the practice under the law have ever been brought to trial.

    Article 6 of the Guinean Constitution, which outlaws cruel and inhumane treatment, could be interpreted to include these practices, should a case be brought to the Supreme Court. A member of the Guinean Supreme Court is working with a local NGO on inserting a clause into the Guinean Constitution specifically prohibiting these practices.

    8.  Nigeria

    There is no federal law banning the practice of FGM in Nigeria. Opponents of these practices rely on Section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that states "no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment" as the basis for banning the practice nationwide.

    A member of the House of Representatives has drafted a bill, not yet in committee, to outlaw this practice.

    Most anti-FGM groups are refocusing their energies at the state and local government level. Edo State banned this practice in 1999. Persons convicted under the law are subject to a fine or to imprisonment for not less than six months or both. Ogun, Cross River, Osun, Rivers and Bayelsa states have also banned the practice since that time.

    A conviction in Edo State resulted in a 1000 Naira (US $10) fine and imprisonment of six months. While opponents of the practice applaud laws like this one as a step in the right direction, they have criticized the small fine and lack of enforcement thus far.

    The IAC in Nigeria is pursuing a state by state strategy to criminalize the practice in all 36 states. It first meets with the local government area Chairman about the harmful health effects of the practice. The Chairman is relied on to make contact with Council members, traditional rulers and other opinion leaders to discuss the problems associated with this practice and to work on alternative rites to satisfy cultural concerns. Only after consensus has been reached at this level, are all employed in the statewide campaign to ban the practice. IAC/Nigeria expects the campaign to take at least five years to reach all 36 states.

    9.  Senegal

    A law that was passed in January 1999 makes FGM illegal in Senegal. President Diouf had appealed for an end to this practice and for legislation outlawing it. The law modifies the Penal Code to make this practice a criminal act, punishable by a sentence of one to five years in prison. A spokesperson for the human rights group RADDHO (The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights) noted in the local press that "Adopting the law is not the end, as it will still need to be effectively enforced for women to benefit from it."

    The period since passage of the law in January 1999 has seen two arrests, but no convictions. In July 1999, the public prosecutor in Tambacounda ordered the arrest of the grandmother and mother of a five year old girl, following a complaint filed by the girl’s father alleging the two women had ordered FGM performed on his daughter. The practitioner was also charged. Following emotional public outcry in the region, however, the cases were not pursued and no convictions resulted.

    The press has suggested that the passage of the law has driven the practice underground.

    10.  Somalia

    There is no national law specifically prohibiting FGM in Somalia. There are provisions of the Penal Code of the former government covering "hurt", "grievous hurt" and "very grievous hurt" that might apply.

    In November 1999, the Parliament of the Puntland administration unanimously approved legislation making the practice illegal. There is no evidence, however, that this law is being enforced.

    11.  Tanzania

    Section 169A of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 prohibits FGM. Punishment is imprisonment of from five to fifteen years or a fine not exceeding 300,000 shillings (approximately US$380) or both. There have been some arrests under this legislation, but no reports of prosecutions yet.

    12.  Togo

    On October 30, 1998, the National Assembly unanimously voted to outlaw the practice of FGM. Penalties under the law can include a prison term of two months to ten years and a fine of 100,000 francs to one million francs (approximately US$160 to 1,600). A person who had knowledge that the procedure was going to take place and failed to inform public authorities can be punished with one month to one year imprisonment or a fine of from 20,000 to 500,000 francs (approximately US$32 to 800).

    During deliberations on the law, legislators called for a widespread information campaign on the harmful health consequences of the practice. At least one excisor has been arrested under the law, but the outcome of the case is unknown.

    Following passage of the law, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with WHO and the United Nations Population Fund, organized a seminar on the enforcement of the law.

    Several ministries followed this example with smaller campaigns to inform the public about the health problems associated with this practice. National radio and television, as well as private radio stations, have broadcast information about the legal and health consequences of this practice.

    13.  Uganda

There is no law against the practice of FGM in Uganda. In 1996, however, a court intervened to prevent the performance of this procedure under Section 8 of the Children Statute, enacted in 1996, that makes it unlawful to subject a child to social or customary practices that are harmful to the child's health.


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