BEIRUT - Lawyers in Egypt are appealing to a higher court after two men accused of causing the death of a 13-year-old girl during an illegal circumcision were acquitted last week.
Activists said this is Egypt’s first attempt ever at prosecuting people for female genital mutilation, or FGM. For years, rights groups in Egypt have been railing against FGM, saying it devastates girls’ bodies and minds.
In a 2008 victory for those activists, the practice was banned.
But late last year, more than five years after the ban, UNICEF said 91 percent of women in Egypt between the ages of 15 and 49 have been circumcised.
“It violates the human rights of women and girls. I mean why anybody should interfere with my body? To cut part of it?” asked Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, a rights group advocating against FGM.
She said she was hopeful that the doctor and the father of Soheir al-Batea, a 13-year-old who prosecutors and medical experts said died from complications related to FGM, would be convicted, deterring other doctors from performing the banned surgery.
'Shocked and disappointed'
The doctor, Raslan Fadl, could have been sentenced to up to two years in prison if convicted, Abu-Dayyeh said.
“We were really very shocked and disappointed from his position, from his verdict,” she said.
But Abu-Dayyeh said prosecutors are not giving up, and have already filed an appeal with a higher court.
The original court did not immediately provide an explanation for the acquittals, but some charges had already been dropped after al-Batea’s family made a deal with Dr. Fadl.
Despite the dangers associated with female genital mutilation, it is widespread in 29 countries, mostly in Africa. Families that support the practice said it can protect a girl’s chastity.
“They think that by this women will have less excitement for sex, limiting their sexual lives, especially before marriage. This is what they think about this,” Abu-Dayyeh said.
Uncircumcised girls in regions where FGM is common face social rejection, and many people, both Muslim and Christian, believe it is a religious duty.
Some analysts said prosecuting doctors could drive the practice underground and more commonly into the hands of un-trained “cutters” who perform the surgery in dangerous, unsanitary conditions.
But Abu-Dayyeh says since it is often respected doctors performing FGM these days in Egypt, it is often hard to convince people that there is anything wrong with the tradition.