The death of a 13-year-old girl has caused a wave of controversy across the world. The father of the girl and her doctor could become the first people to ever be prosecuted in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation. In fact, their case will mark the first time in the country that female genital mutilation has ever been taken to trial.
The practice of female genital mutilation, or circumcision, was officially banned in 2008 but continues to be widely carried out across the nation. The most publicized recent death is that of Sohair al-Bata’a, a 13-year-old girl who died under Dr. Raslan Fadl’s care in June 2013.
Dr. Raslan Fadl was initially charged last year for her death but charges were dropped after he claimed that she had been being treated for genital warts. According to him, her death was the result of an allergic reaction to penicillin.
After the initial case against Fadl was dropped, women’s rights organization Equality Now brought the case to international attention. According to Equality Now, Dr. Fadl paid the girl’s family 50,000 Pounds ($7,257 USD) after her death and they chose to drop the case.
After the case became publicized, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population closed Dr. Fadl’s office pending further investigation by the Attorney General’s office. During that investigation, the Attorney General found cause to believe that Fadl’s initial claims were false. The government-run National Population Council (NPC) and Egypt’s chief prosecutor decided to reopen the case against Fadl.
According to NPC’s head Hala Youssef, the group plans to make an example out of Fadl. Despite being outlawed in 2008, female
gential mutilation is still a common practice and the NPC believes that other doctors must see that the laws will be enforced. They believe that by putting a doctor on trial for the first time, doctors across Egypt will see that the female genital mutilation laws are in fact being enforced.
According to recent research, 91% of married women aged 15-19 have undergone female gential mutilation. In other words, they have all had their clitorises removed. Nearly 20% of those women were circumcised without the aid of a doctor.
Vivian Foad, who is leading the NPC’s investigation, has said that female gential mutilation is a widespread culutral issue within Egypt. According to NPC, female circumcision is widespread across the country in both Muslim and Christian communities and particularly in rural areas. Supporters of female gential mutilation believe that it reduces the likelihood of women committing adultery and helps them maintain their purity.
While many groups working against female gential mutilation practices have said that the number of cases is going down decade by the decade, they believe that there is considerably more work to do. Recent research has shown that urban areas like Cairo rarely see its citizens participating in the female circumcision trend while it is the norm in rural areas.
Equity Now also noted that the prevalence is unique to the area. Other Middle Eastern countries like Jordan, Palestine, and Syria rarely see female gential mutilation. Research did note, however, that Egypt is seeing an across the board reduction in support. In 1995, 82% of women between the ages of 18 and 49 supported female gential mutilation. When surveyed in 2008, only 63% of women in that age group supported the idea.
Opponent of the practice are hoping to see a reduction in the practice across Egypt and the nation watches the first female genital mutilation trial.
By Nicci Mende