Sudan: Backlash in the fight against FGM

Women’s and children’s rights activists in the Sudan protest the annulment of an article that prohibits FGM/C.
Despite efforts to eliminate the practice of FGM/C by official and voluntary groups, the rates of practice are still high in the Sudan. There has been a relative drop from 90% to 69% in 2006.
During its periodical meeting held on February 6, the Sudanese Cabinet approved the “Child Bill, 2009” which is a legislation on the rights of the child including the provision of health and social care and the regulation of child labor.

The bill has been met with strong criticism because it annuls the Article 13 which used to prohibit female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a harmful practice and tradition affecting the health of children. Activists working in field of women and children’s rights consider the step taken by the Cabinet as a 'retreat' and violation of all international laws and charters.

A number of women leaders agree that the removal of Article 13 from the Child Bill violates numerous laws and policies such as Article 32 of the Constitution, which reads “the state shall fight harmful habits and traditions which weaken the dignity and position of women”. The 2007 National Policy for Empowerment of Women, signed by the President of the Republic himself, considers the elimination of FGM as one of its essential objectives. Annulment of Article 13 also violates Medical Council resolutions and recommendations, and contradicts the resolution of the National Assembly No. 29 which reads “impose necessary legislations that prevent FGM and the need to fight all harmful habits and mobilize all related bodies to support these efforts.”

A number of activists in the fields of women and children’s rights also state that this attempt is against regional references such the African Children's Charter; the 2005 Dakar Declaration on the elimination of female circumcision; the Rabat Declaration on children’s affairs in the Muslim world issued by the Conference of Ministers; and the Declaration of Khartoum issued by the 2nd Conference of Ministers held in February, 2009. Paragraph 25 of this Declaration, which was approved and signed by Sudanese officials, clearly states that necessary procedures shall be implemented to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls, including harmful traditional practices such as the wedding of children and FGM.

There is a unanimous agreement among lawmakers that legislations and laws that criminalize the practice of FGM shall be imposed. The NCCW and partners have prepared a law that criminalizes and prohibits FGM, which was approved by a number of relevant ministries and is ready for endorsement. Also, educational programs and projects were designed to introduce the issue of FGM in the syllabus of both primary and high schools and to train teachers. Activists and organizations working to eliminate FGM are demanding:

1. Inclusion of Article 13 in the Child Bill and if necessary in other laws and regulations.
2. Enforcement of the national strategy for the eradication of FGM.
3. State to remain committed to adhere to the view of its specialized reference in the medical and health sectors including the Ministry of Health, Sudanese Medical Council, Gynecology and Obstetrics, General Pediatrics, and Urology Specialists.

To sign the petition:

Spring 2009

By Nafisa Bedri, Ahfad University for Women, the Sudan

Source: Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)