Egypt’s health ministry announced yesterday that it would close a legal loophole allowing female genital mutilation (FGM), days after a 12-year-old girl died from the procedure. Although FGM was officially banned in Egypt in 1997, the practice was still legal when deemed medically necessary by a doctor and has continued largely unimpeded throughout the country. A 2005 UNICEF report found that 97 percent of Egyptian women between 15 and 49 had undergone the procedure, which can encompass the partial or complete removal of the female external genitalia, resulting in reduced or no sexual feeling, pain, long-term illness, mental disorders, and sometimes death.
In the wake of the death of 12-year-old Bedur Ahmed Shaker last week, Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali has issued a “permanent ban” on FGM, prohibiting every medical professional in public or private practice from performing the procedure. In a statement, he said any genital cutting “will be viewed as a violation of the law and all conventions will be punished,” the AFP reports.
In addition, Egypt’s state-appointed arbiter of Islamic law has publicly denounced the practice. In the strongest statement yet by a Muslim cleric against FGM, the Grand Mufti declared on Sunday that Islam forbade the “harmful tradition of circumcision” of girls.
The ban still faces debate in Parliament before it is adopted into law, but it is likely to be passed. Egypt’s first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, has long campaigned against FGM in Egypt and calls the ban a “national priority.”