A doctor has become the first in Egypt to be convicted of female genital mutilation, seven years after the widely practised procedure was first criminalised in the country.
Raslan Fadl was previously acquitted of the manslaughter of 13-year-old Sohair al-Bataa during an FGM procedure in a village in northern Egypt. Prosecutors appealed against the verdict, and on Monday another court found him guilty both of causing Sohair’s death and of mutilating her.
Fadl was sentenced to two years in jail for manslaughter and a further three months for the FGM operation. His clinic was ordered to close for a year. Sohair’s father was given a suspended three-month sentence for allowing his daughter to be mutilated.
The Egyptian lawyer who spearheaded efforts to bring the doctor to justice, Reda al-Danbouki, head of the Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, said it was a landmark verdict. “Now Sohair al-Bataa can lie peacefully in her grave in the knowledge that she has won her rights, and the rights of every girl who has been circumcised,” Danbouki told the Guardian. “We are happy that we still have fair judges like this who implement the law.”
Fadl, who remained at liberty during his trial, could not be reached for comment on Monday. In previous interviews with the Guardian he claimed the case was “all made up by these dogs’ rights people”, using a derogatory term for human rights activists. He claimed that he operated on Sohair to remove a wart rather than to mutilate her. “In every country in the world you would carry out this operation,” Fadl said.
FGM is widely practised throughout Egypt, according to the UN, which estimates that 91% of married Egyptian women between 15 and 49 – across both Muslim and Christian communities – have been subjected to the procedure. Campaigners hope cases such as Fadl’s will help persuade provincial doctors to abandon the practice, despite the lucrative income that it brings.
“This verdict won’t eliminate FGM but at least doctors will think 10 times before doing it,” said Danbouki. “Every time he thinks of the money he’s being offered, he will remember this doctor spending time in prison for two years and three months, with his clinic closed. And also every father who thinks to do this to his daughter.”
The attitudes of Sohair’s neighbours in interviews with the Guardian last year suggested campaigners face a long battle to eradicate a practice ingrained in many rural communities.
“We circumcise all our children, they say it’s good for our girls,” said Naga Shawky, a 40-year-old housewife, as she walked along streets near Sohair’s home. “The law won’t stop anything, the villagers will carry on. Our grandfathers did it and so shall we.”
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a regional spokeswoman for Equality Now, an international women’s rights group that has championed Sohair’s case globally, said such attitudes underlined the need to start a debate about FGM in the communities where the practice went unchallenged.
“I feel so excited and happy [about the verdict],” she said. “But there is still a lot of work to do for our local partners – they have really to go into the villages, talk to local leaders, local doctors. We can’t just stop with this historic decision, although it is an encouraging first step to ending FGM in Egypt.”
Source: The Guardian