International Protection Against Female Genital Mutilation

Author – Briti Das, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Gururaj Bhat, Sri Prasunna College of Law

Editor – Mohit Meena, Gujarat National Law University

Introduction: -

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized. World health organization (WHO) strongly urges health care providers not to perform FGM.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s right to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. Treatment of health complications of FGM in 27 high prevalence countries cost 1.4 billion USD per year.

Types of Female Genital Mutilation:-

FGM is classified into 4 major types.

1. This is partial or total removal of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female Genitals, and or the prepuce/ clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).

2. This is a partial or total removal of clitoral glans and the labia minor (the inner folds of the valve), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).

3. Also known as infibulations, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/ clitoral hold and gains.

4. This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, example – Pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Deinfibulation refers to the practice of cutting open the sealed vaginal opening of a women who has been infibulated, which is often necessary for improving health and well-being as well as to allow intercourse or to facilitate childbirth.

According to the “World Health Organization” of the current cases of genital mutilations are the ones under type one with 90% of the confirmed women being victims of clitoridectomy. The remaining 10% cases were infibulations.

There are no health benefits, Only harm: -

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital issue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls and women’s bodies. Generally speaking, risks of FGM increases with increasing severity, although all forms are of FGM are associated with increased health risk.

Immediate complications can include:-

· Severe pain

· Excessive bleeding

· Genital tissue swelling

· Fever

· Infections

· Urinary problems

· Wound healing problems

· Injury to surrounding genital tissue

· Shock

· Death

The very description of the act is gruesome casting a picture of pain and cruelty in the minds of the people, but why is such a practice still in existence? Often it is due to it being a long-term practice in various ethnic groups where the act was done to protect the women from invaders or looter who would rape, assault or kidnap the women. However, that has turned into a gruesome practice where children as young as a few years old are subjected to this torture in the name of culture. The act has both short term and long-term effects when it comes to health. The consequences include bleeding, infection in the urinary tract, hemorrhaging, chronic pain and even death. the effects also extend to when a woman is giving birth as often the mutilation as discussed under type four leads to the opening have to be cut open and later sewed back after childbirth as culture dictates. Research has also shown multiple child deaths due to adverse effects of the child where 2 of every 100 deliveries die due to FGM.

The mutilation of female genitalia is a gross violation of the basic rights which are guaranteed to every single human being. There are provisions mentioned under the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and the “UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women” (“CEDAW”) to help combat FGM on an international platform and to provide aid to the victims of such a heinous cultural practice.

In the year 1990 and 1992 respectively the “Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women” adopted recommendations 14(regarding female circumcision) and 19 (regarding violence against women) where the committee explicitly held that the violence against women fell under the scope of CEDAW and thus would fall under international human rights law. Another landmark step regarding the fight against FGM on an international platform was the General Assembly adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women where FGM was recognized as a form of violence against women, article 2 has declared, “Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following: […] female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women.” Although not legally binding, this declaration strengthened the growing international consensus that gender-based violence is a human rights violation.

To what extent do the states have to follow the provisions put forth by the international bodies? The human rights treaties hold the states to their promise to protect and uphold the basic human rights which is to be upheld with due diligence. The act of FGM is violative of numerous human rights and as such is condemned by the international bodies. Article 4 of the General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated that “States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.”. Traditional practices are specifically mentioned in CEDAW and the CRC. Article 5 of CEDAW requires that the States parties are to “...take all appropriate measures: (a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.” Article 24 of the CRC says in sub-paragraph 3 that “States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.” As international human rights do not bind on the member nations, various recommendations are made to aid the nations in their home country which is legally binding:

1. National laws

2. Policies

3. Financial support

4. Data collection

5. Educational, training and awareness-raising programmes

6. Training of professionals

7. Support of civil society organizations

8. Support services

9. Involvement of all actors

10. Social and economic reintegration of FGM practitioners

The above are a few ways that a nation can help prosecute the practitioners of FGM and how the victims can be reintegrated to society and how the victims can be helped through a traumatizing situation. Fundamentally FGM is a practice that should be criminalized and the preparators punished. An example of the countries working towards the goal of eradicating the practice was in Egypt, where in 2014 a young girl deceased due to FGM leading to her father and the doctor both being referred to the criminal court for prosecution. It is only a small ripple in the water, but one must remember that ripples can cause a storm and small incidents like this would lead to the final end to FGM and the trauma it causes to the victims.


1. Female circumcision: religious practice v. Human rights violation:

2. Implementation of the International and Regional Human Rights Framework for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.

3. “An Advocate’s Guide to Action, Female Genital Mutilation A Matter of Human Rights. Reproductive”

4. Eliminating Female genital mutilation an interagency statement.

5. KG, F. (2016). “Female Genital Mutilation: A Violation of Human Rights. Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs, 4(2).

6. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 14: female circumcision, 1990 (A/45/38 and Corrigendum).

7. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 19: violence against women, adopted at the Eleventh Session, 1992, contained in document A/47/38.

8. Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, 1993 (UN Doc. A/CONF.157/24 (Part I) at 20), point 38.

9. General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 20 December 1993 (A/RES/48/104).

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