News24

Female circumcision outlawed

2009-12-11 14:30

Kampala - A Ugandan official says parliament has passed a bill banning female genital mutilation.

Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo said the new law, passed without opposition late on Thursday, could give offenders a life sentence.

Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is practiced mostly in northeastern Uganda on more than 3 000 girls each December.

The practice involves the removal of a girl's clitoris or other genital parts at a young age. Critics say it can lead to complications during childbirth and eliminates any pleasure for women during sex.

The new law imposes a 10-year penalty on anyone who conducts the procedure and life in prison for those who physically force a woman to submit to the act, one of the bill's main sponsors said.

"This practice has left so many women in misery. So we are saying no. We cannot allow women to be dehumanised," Francis Epetait, Uganda's shadow health minister said.

While Epetait is a leader in Uganda's main opposition party, the bill was entirely non-partisan and voted unopposed by a single lawmaker.

"This operation is so painful, so cruel, and these so-called surgeons are paid to do it," he said. "I supported the bill with all my strength and heart."

While female genital mutilation is not very widespread in Uganda, it has historically been practiced by some communities in the northeast of the country.

In October 2008, community leaders in Kapchorwa district, where the practice was most prevalent, unilaterally decided to ban it. At the time, the district chairman said he hoped parliament would institute a nationwide ban.

In 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution that called female genital mutilation a violation of the rights of women and said it constituted "irreparable, irreversible abuse."

The resolution also said the practice increases the risk of HIV transmission, as well as maternal and infant mortality. The United Nations estimates that 100 to 140 million women worldwide have undergone the cut.

Female circumcision is illegal in more than a dozen African countries, although laws are rarely enforced.