Law and FGM

If female genital mutilation is illegal, why are so many women and girls still being cut?

A ground-breaking new report from FGM research organisation ‘28 Too Many’ claims that the legislation against FGM in many countries is failing to protect women and girls from the practice – anti-FGM laws are rarely enforced and the continuing absence of prosecutions is putting millions of women and girls at risk.

The study, carried out by 28 Too Many in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation's global pro bono legal programme, Trustlaw, shows that although 22 out of 28 FGM practising countries in Africa have national legislation criminalising FGM, law enforcement is generally weak or non-existent, and any sentences are usually short or suspended. In addition, 6 of the 28 practising countries remain without laws, meaning FGM is effectively still legal there.

Author of the report, Research Manager Amy Hurn, said, “if three countries tighten and fully implement their existing anti-FGM laws and six countries introduce national legislation, this will potentially have an impact on 44 million girls across Africa. We are calling for anti-FGM laws to be fully enforced, and for countries without laws banning FGM to introduce national legislation as a matter of urgency.”

Anti-FGM laws are important because they are a statement of intent and they demonstrate a commitment to eradicate FGM. However, 28 Too Many recognises that laws alone cannot end FGM; they need to be applied alongside education and form part of the community engagement around changing cultural and social norms

Amy added, “significantly, 5 out of the 6 countries that do not have anti-FGM laws also do not appear to have current national strategies in place. This shows a lack of political will to tackle FGM. The lack of a law also undermines the vital work being done by activists on the ground in many of these practising communities. Governments need to support their efforts and show that FGM is unacceptable and illegal.”

The report also covers the medicalisation of FGM and highlights that only 2 of the 5 countries where medicalised FGM is most prevalent specifically criminalise and set out penalties for it in their national laws.

28 Too Many Founder, Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, said, “anti-FGM laws in many practising countries across Africa are often unavailable and hard to interpret – our reports mean that these laws are now accessible for everyone, in language they can understand.”

This report is accompanied by a series of detailed individual country reports covering the anti-FGM laws of 28 African countries, analysing the legal framework, highlighting examples of good practice and identifying gaps in the current legislation.

Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation applauded the work saying, “there is no other research that covers the legalities of FGM so comprehensively and at this scale.”

All of the reports are free to download on the 28 Too Many website

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