The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

MP to propose bill to ban female genital mutilation

Malta Independent Monday, 29 July 2013, 08:40 Last update: about 6 years ago

Government backbencher Chris Fearne is to present a Private Members Bill he proposed to ban Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to Parliament, following summer recess.

FGM is a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women's sexuality and enhances fertility. At present, the Maltese Criminal Law includes no policy documents on FGM and the only reference to it is found in the 2010 National Sexual Health Policy which refers to FGM as one of the realities arising around sexual health and which needs to be addressed.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as: “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.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, paediatrician Chris Fearne said the Bill proposes the introduction of a law banning FGM in Malta and also banning the practice of submitting Maltese girls to the practice abroad. This move would prevent harm being done to Maltese girls of African origins in other countries. Besides FGM, the Bill includes two clauses banning forced marriage and forced surgical sterilisation.

Doctors, social workers and all other professionals who will come into contact with cases of FGM, forced marriage or forced sterilisation will be obliged to report such cases. Aiding and abetting FGM would also be considered a crime.

Dr Fearne completed the draft and had it reviewed by officials from the Attorney General’s office. Over the coming weeks, he will be meeting with NGOs working against domestic violence and women’s organisations in consultations over the Bill before this is finalised and presented before the House of Representatives.

He explained the consultation process is aimed at attempting to close all legal loopholes prior to having the Bill presented, discussed and having it enacted as part of the Criminal Code. Those interested in sharing their views with Dr Fearne may get in touch with him by email: [email protected].

Contacted to give her views on the Bill that is to be presented, the opposition’s Spokesperson for Social Dialogue and Civil Liberties, Claudette Buttigieg, said in principle the PN is against Female Genital Mutilation because it is against the Fundamental Human Rights of girls and women. She said she would be able to give her views on the actual bill once it is tabled in parliament.

Last week, Zminijietna – Voice of the Left, issued a statement in support of the Bill to be proposed to Parliament while earlier this month, the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations (MCWO) said it fully supported the initiative taken by Dr Fearne.  This is in keeping with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the MCWO said.

In December, The UN General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation. The resolution calls the practice harmful and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.

It calls on the UN's 193 member states to condemn the practice and launch education campaigns to eliminate it.

A report published by UNHCR Malta in March shows the proportion of female asylum seekers from FGM-practising countries out of the total number of female applicants was the highest in Malta (more than 90%) and Italy (around 66%).

The report was based on the 'Study to map the current situation and trends of female genital mutilation in 27 EU Member States and Croatia', commissioned by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) last year.

Women from FGM practising countries who applied for asylum in the EU came mostly from Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, and their distribution differed across the EU.

For 2011, the study calculated that an estimated 8,809 female asylum applicants aged 14 to 64 were likely to be affected by FGM in the EU, which constitutes 61% of the total number of female applicants of this age group. The study estimates that in 2011, more than 50% of all female applicants originating from FGM-practising countries who applied for asylum in Austria, Malta, Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom were potentially affected by FGM (UNHCR, 2012).

The report remarked that there are no specific FGM policies in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, whereas in other countries, specific policies are limited. 

The WHO fact sheet on FGM highlights the practice is mostly carried out in African countries by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and this trend is increasing.

FGM is recognised 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 rights 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.

WHO continues to point out that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths and the need for later surgeries.

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually and about 101 million girls aged 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.

About 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

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