Sudan’s highest governing body has ratified a law criminalising female genital mutilation (FGM), the justice ministry announced, three months after the cabinet approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform it.
The sovereign council, comprising military and civilian figures, approved a series of laws on Friday, including the criminalisation of the age-old practice known as FGM, or genital cutting, that “undermines the dignity of women”, the ministry said in a statement.
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FGM is a widespread ritual in the African country.
“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 added that doctors or health workers who carry out the practice would be penalised, and hospitals, clinics or other places where the operation was carried out would be shut down.
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.
Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations.
Rights groups have for years decried as barbaric the practice, which can lead to a myriad physical, psychological and sexual complications and, in the most tragic cases, death.
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.
“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 (UNICEF) 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.
Sudan’s anti-FGM advocates came close to a ban in 2015 when a bill was discussed in Parliament but then shot down by former President Omar al-Bashir who caved in to pressure from some Muslim leaders.
Yet many religious leaders have spoken out against genital cutting over the years.