An Overview of Female Genital Mutilation

What is FGM?

Genital mutilation is the horrific way of violating the rights of young girls. This process is usually in the light of cultural and religious traditions. The method refers to the forced cutting or abuse of the genital organ. Minors have to go through this process, which is, so, a violation of their rights. According to the WHO, FGM is the partial or full removal of external female genitalia. It also includes other non-medical alteration of female genital organs. FGM has no positive effects but is detrimental to girls and women in several ways. Removing and damaging healthy, natural female genital disturbs the natural processes.

Effects of FGM

Victims of this procedure experience severe physical and sexual issues. They also face various psychological problems that may be for a short or long period. Usually, a mother or grandmother of a girl takes her for the execution of this tradition. This ends up in complete betrayal of the faith of a child. A study conducted by Manfred Nowak talks about the after-effects of such a procedure. (Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture). FGM causes extreme pain and bleeding, trauma, trouble passing urine, infections. It causes damage to surrounding genital tissue and often death from excessive bleeding. The pain caused by FGM does not interrupt the initial treatment. But instead, it continues as a continuing torment throughout a woman’s existence. Women who have undergone FGM experience various long-term effects. These include physical, sexual and psychological problems. Women often experience chronic pelvic infections, cyst growth, abscesses and vaginal sores. They also experience initiation of scar tissue, reproductive system infection, reduced sexual desire. In furtherance, they also suffer from psychological effects, including post-traumatic stress. Many risks from infibulations involve menstrual and urinary disorders and miscarriage. It also involves after surgery (defilation and infibulation), and intense sexual intercourse. Sexual activity can only take place through surgery or penetrative sexual intercourse. And only after the infibulation has opened. The scar tissue may tear while giving birth, or the cutting of the opening to enable the child to come out. These cutting and restoring the genitalia of a woman results in painful tissue of the scar.

Prevalence of FGM in India and other countries

The Dawoodi Bohra community practices FGM, which is a sect of the Shia Muslims. The community belongs to Western India (Gujarat and Maharashtra). They do this under the guidance of Syedna (community leader). Bohra girls go through FGM shortly after/before they reach their puberty. In the Bohra community, the name of the procedure is “Khatna”. In which, there is a removal of only a part of the clitoral hood or prepuce above the clitoris glans. In African countries, they remove entire external genitalia, clitoris, labia minora and Majora. After this, the vaginal passage is, stitched which is also known as Infibulation. The custom came on the frontline when a member of the Islamic faith was jailed in Australia over female genital mutilation. The mother and the former nurse who was also engaged in the same were also spared prison. The Australian Supreme Court accused him of being the leader for the FGM procedure. This event helped to bring out the secrecy about the practice.

Factors behind this tradition

The factors due to which FGM takes place involve the honour of the family. Some say this is for increasing male sexual gratification. While some also believe that it is for increasing fertility. It is for greater acceptance (particularly for marriage). And also for the so-called virginity or chastity.

Social Efforts

Sahiyo empowers the Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian groups to end FGM. By doing this, they are bringing about meaningful social change. They intend to acknowledge the principles of consent. In furtherance, they also underline the right of a child/woman over their bodies. Masooma Ranalvi, a victim of this procedure, launched an online petition. She was trying to persuade women to talk about the practice. In a historic move, Dawoodi Bohra women who were all exposed to FGM had signed the petition to stop this ritual. These like-minded women gathered under “Speak out on FGM” in 2015, to reach out to the world. They began with the very first petition named after their team that got 80,000 signatures. A whole other movement called “Not My Daughter” happened after. It began in April and had more than 150 mothers and fathers from the Bohra community. They pledged not to put their daughters through the pain and misery. Ranalvi joined “Each One Reach One” campaign to increase awareness among Bohras. A Pinch of Skin by Priya Goswami, a short 2012 documentary, portrays FGM. The film screened globally also obtained India’s, esteemed National Award. This was for being the first documentary to showcase the Khatna taboo procedure.

Legal events involving FGM

Advocate Sunita Tiwari had filed a PIL against this barbaric procedure in SC. The Petitioner had argued that the process of FGM finds no reference in the Quran or anywhere else. So, it is not a crucial part of religion. Thus, the government can make legal provisions to put an end to that practice.

The practice had been forbidden by the UN General Assembly, by a special resolution in 2012. After this, the practice was further outlawed by 27 African countries. But India, which is a signatory has so far paid no attention to the issue. (Convention on the Rights of the Child and Human Rights). There is a need to ban this custom as soon as possible. The landmark judgments include Javed vs. Haryana State, (2003) SC and Khurshed Ahmed Khan vs. UP State (2015). The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that the protections under Article 25 were of religious faith and not a practice that could be contrary to public order, health or morality. It was further mentioned that the practice acquired no religious sanction because it was being allowed. Thus, legally, there is no sanction or defence for this FGM action.

There is no explicit provision in India to guide the practice of FGM. This is because of the confidentiality and religious claims surrounding the practice. Despite the fact that India is a signatory of the UN Resolution which ends all types of exploitation. (UN Resolution for Child and Women Protection). Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code describes some types of serious harm, i.e. where. a person causes injury to another person in the manners specified. It states that he or she is liable to cause grievous injury which is a punishable offence. FGM activity has many long term consequences that are detrimental to a person’s health.

Section 326 of the IPC states that anyone who causes severe harm through any firing, stabbing or cutting or any instrument used that is likely to cause death as a weapon of crime is liable. The Indian constitution provides every citizen of the nation the fundamental rights. This includes freedom of equality and the right to life and dignity (Articles 14 and 21). Women may claim immunity as the procedure violates both of these Fundamental Rights. The 2012 Children’s Protection from Sexual Offenses Act. recognizes any individual’s penetrative sexual assault on any child. The 2003 Goa Children’s Act defines sexual assault as intentionally causing harm to children’s sexual organs. India is, however, a signatory to the CEDAW. (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). It mentions FGM as a form of abuse and gender-based discrimination. The CEDAW says that it must be the obligation of states to take “all reasonable steps”. And also to alter the sociocultural behavioural traits of men and women. People are now criticising the practice of FGM. Attempts are being made by the citizens to counter this activity. As a result of this, the legal position of the profession has recently changed. The Supreme Court issued a directive to the Centre on 8 May 2017. It was also issued to 4 states – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Delhi. This happened due to the PIL filed by a lawyer wanting a blanket prohibition on the practice of FGM and making it a punishable crime. “This problem is delicate and critical,” the CJI stated. Maneka Gandhi had also made statements about the problem. She told its time to persuade Syedna, the Bohra high priest, to release a decree to members of the community. This was to relinquish FGM because it is a violent act under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the POCSO Act, 2012.

Conclusion

The custom of FGM towards the young girls is degrading, cruel and immoral. It is widespread in society and performed under the veil of culture and religion. And thus it needs to be further curtailed. There are several regulations in India that can be used to put an end to this practice but they are not enough. Thus, there is a need for strict legislation against all these practices. Government also needs to take steps to make people aware of these activities. Both legislators and the people need to be in collaboration to counter this activity.

AUTHOR:

Vidhi Chouradia
GH Raisoni Law College