Gambia's parliament has passed a bill banning female genital mutilation and setting strict penalties for offenders, a month after the president condemned the practice that is carried out on many women in the West African country.
A person who engages in female circumcision could face up to three years in prison or a fine of 50,000 dalasi ($1,250), the new law says. If the act results in death, a person could face life imprisonment, according to the bill passed on Monday.
President Yahya Jammeh condemned the practice in November, saying it was not mentioned in the Quran.
Female genital mutilation is practiced in more than half of African countries. It entails the complete or partial removal of the external genitalia of women and girls for nonmedical reasons.
It causes lifelong physical and emotional harm and can result in life-threatening complications during childbirth, the UK-based charity 28 Too Many has said. In 2010, female genital mutilation was carried out on nearly 80 percent of Gambian women and girls aged 15 to 49, the group said.
Gambia is the 27th sub-Saharan African country to now have legislation against female genital mutilation, said Dr. Isatou Touray of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children.
Activists describe Jammeh's stance as a welcome surprise.
Jammeh, in power since 1994, is often criticized for human rights abuses, including the torture of opponents and persecution of gays and lesbians.