(AFP) – Egypt’s parliament on Saturday outlawed female circumcision except in cases of “medical necessity,” a condition which could undermine the ban, parliamentary sources said.
Female genital mutilation, which dates back to pharaonic times in Egypt, will now be punishable by a jail term of between three months and two years or a fine of 1,000-5,000 Egyptian pounds (190-940 dollars), they said.
The new legislation is part of a bill on children’s rights which has been the subject of fierce parliamentary debate for several weeks.
Those who supported the practice argued it was appropriate when female genitals protruded too much, adding that it was needed to preserve the woman’s virtue.
“Nothing in Islam forbids circumcision,” said Saad al-Katatni, president of Egypt’s main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The health ministry tried in 1997 to ban the tradition, which affects both Muslim and Christian women in Egypt, and introduced curbs which allowed only doctors to carry out the operation and solely in “exceptional circumstances.”
The restrictions were further strengthened in June 2007 when Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali issued a decree — rather than law — banning all doctors and members of the medical profession from performing the procedure.
The new law, which takes immediate effect, toughens penalties for anyone who is convicted of flouting the ban.
Circumcision involves the partial or complete removal of the woman’s external genitals and has remained widespread in Egypt despite the efforts by political and religious authorities to stop the practice.
Female circumcision can cause death through haemorrhaging and later complications during childbirth. It also carries risks of infection, urinary tract problems and mental trauma.