Sudan criminalizes female genital mutilation

Sudan’s sovereign council, the highest authority in the country, on Friday ratified a law criminalizing female genital mutilation. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

Sudan criminalizes female genital mutilation

  • Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to what is known as FGM or genital cutting
  • The justice ministry said the practice “undermines the dignity of women”

KHARTOUM: Sudan's highest governing body Friday ratified a law criminalising female genital mutilation, a widespread ritual in the African country, the justice ministry announced.
The sovereign council, comprising military and civilian figures, approved a series of laws including criminalisation of the age-old practice known as FGM or genital cutting that "undermines the dignity of women", the ministry said in a statement.
The reform comes a year after longtime president Omar Al-Bashir was toppled following months of mass pro-reform protests on the streets in which women played a key role.
Sudan's cabinet in April approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform FGM.
"The mutilation of a woman's genital organs is now considered a crime," the justice ministry said, punishable by up to three years in prison.
It said doctors or health workers who carry out genital cutting would be penalised, and hospitals, clinics or other places where the operation was carried out would be shut.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hailed Friday's decision.
"It is an important step on the way to judicial reform and in order to achieve the slogan of the revolution - freedom, peace and justice," he tweeted.
The premier vowed that Sudan's new authorities would "forge ahead and review laws and make amendments to rectify flaws in the legal system".
Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations.
In its most brutal form, it involves the removal of the labia and clitoris, often in unsanitary conditions and without anaesthesia.
The wound is then sewn shut, often causing cysts and infections and leaving women to suffer severe pain during sex and childbirth complications later in life.
Rights groups have for years decried as barbaric the practice, which can lead to myriad physical, psychological and sexual complications and, in the most tragic cases, death.
The watershed move is part of reforms that have come since Bashir's ouster.
"It is a very important step for Sudanese women and shows that we have come a long way," women's rights activist Zeinab Badreddin said in May.
The United Nations Children's Fund has also welcomed the move.
"This practice is not only a violation of every girl child's rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl's physical and mental health," said Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF Representative in Khartoum.
The UN says FGM is widespread in many countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, affecting the lives of millions of girls and women.
In Sudan, rights campaigners say the custom has over the past three decades spread to remote regions where it was previously not practised, including Sudan's Nuba mountains.
In neighbouring Egypt, as in several other countries, genital cutting is now prohibited. A 2008 law punishes it with up to seven years in prison.
Sudan's anti-FGM advocates came close to a ban in 2015 when a bill was discussed in parliament but then shot down by Bashir who caved in to pressure from some Islamic clerics.
Yet many religious leaders have spoken out against genital cutting over the years.


Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

  • Iranian outbreak, already the worst in the Middle East, is far more serious than initially reported.
  • Tehran’s cover up of the true virus toll is consistent with their reaction to previous embarrassing incidents.

LONDON: A data leak from within Iran has revealed that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is nearly three times higher than the figures reported by the government.

The data, which was passed to the BBC Persian service, shows almost 42,000 people died with COVID-19 symptoms up to July 20, nearly triple the 14,405 reported by its health ministry.

The number of infections is also far higher than that admitted by the government: 451,024 as opposed to the 278,827 disclosed by Tehran.

Undercounting cases is common across the world due to limited testing capacity, but the BBC’s information reveals that Iranian authorities reported significantly lower daily numbers, despite having a record of all deaths — suggesting the figures were deliberately suppressed.

 

 

The data leak also shows that the first recorded case of the virus in Iran was on Jan. 22 — a month before the government acknowledged any cases.

Already the center of the Middle East’s virus outbreak, Tehran’s cover-up of early cases and its failure to swiftly act on the outbreak likely accelerated the spread of the virus across the region.

The BBC received the data from an anonymous source, who told them they shared the data to “shed light on the truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

The data supplied includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have.

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports, but different in size.

Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former Iranian MP who was an official at the health ministry and is now living in the US, told the BBC that the government was “anxious and fearful of the truth” when COVID-19 hit Iran.

He said: “The government was afraid that the poor and the unemployed would take to the streets.”

The Iranian health ministry maintains that the country’s reports to the World Health Organization on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviations.”

The cover-up of the true scale of their COVID-19 crisis is not unusual behaviour from the regime. A number of incidents have brought a similar response in 2020 alone.

In January, Iran shot down a Ukrainian jet near Tehran, killing all passengers on board. The regime hid its actions for three days, only acknowledging wrongdoing as public pressure mounted through protests.

Then Iranian nuclear and military facilities were the target of a series of sabotages, explosions, and cyberattacks, but Tehran has attempted to conceal what happened at virtually every step of the way.