Gambian parliament mulls lifting ban on female genital mutilation

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BANJUL: The Gambia’s parliament on Monday began examining a highly controversial bill on lifting a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in force since 2015.
The issue has divided Gambians for months, and a few dozen demonstrators gathered outside and inside the parliament seeking the lifting of the ban.
The bill says “female circumcision” is a deep rooted cultural and religious practice and that the ban infringes the right to practice traditions.
But a number of civil society groups are urging the government to stand firm.
The UN childrens’ agency UNICEF said in a 2021 report that 76 percent of Gambian women aged between 15 and 49 had undergone genital mutilation.
The practice can lead to serious health problems, including infections, bleeding, infertility and complications in childbirth, and impairs sexual pleasure.
Lawmaker Almameh Gibba introduced the bill. The second reading was postponed to March 18.
It is unclear whether the bill will be adopted or how it would be enacted.
Former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, now in exile, banned FGM in 2015, branding it outdated and not a requirement of Islam.
The overwhelming majority of the tiny West African nation is Muslim.
Parliament later that year adopted the first law specifically banning FGM, which is now punishable by up to three years in prison.
Between 2018 and 2021, only one case of genital mutilation was brought before a court and no convictions or sanctions were handed down, UNICEF said.
– ‘One of Islam’s virtues’ –
The issue flared up in mid 2023, when three women received fines or prison sentences for performing FGM.
An Islamic cleric paid the fines and The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council issued a fatwa upholding the legality of “female circumcision”.
The Islamic Council, the country’s main Muslim organisation, said the practice was “not just a merely inherited custom” but “one of the virtues of Islam”.
It called on the government to reconsider the ban.
UNICEF defines FGM as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
The organisation estimates 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone some form of the practice, which it recognises as a human rights violation.
“As responsible people and considering responsibility in society, we will ensure that this proposed amendment will not see the light,” said deputy parliament speaker Seedy Njie, according to The Standard newspaper.
But he suggested that prosecutions of FGM perpetrators be suspended while effective awareness-raising campaigns were carried out.
The leader of the parliamentary majority, Bilay Tunkara, told The Standard that his camp would consult the bill’s second reading before adopting a position.
The International Bar Association said in January that the bill was unlikely to come into force due to The Gambia’s international obligations.
The current law is based on the African Union’s Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women, which The Gambia has ratified.



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