The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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'No justification for female genital mutilation' - D'Amato

Malta Independent Friday, 2 August 2013, 07:53 Last update: about 11 years ago

“There can be no anthropological justification or mitigation of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on the basis that it is the expression of a particular culture”, believes the Children’s Commissioner, Helen D’Amato, who expressed her views on the subject with The Malta Independent.

“While cultural mores and practices are to be respected, however different they are from our own, fundamental human rights should always prevail over any cultural practice that offends the dignity and well-being of the human person, especially those of the most vulnerable, as are children,” she highlighted.

The Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties Ministry too endorses measures that combat or ban this practice, given that female genital mutilation is a form of gender-based violence against women and girls and a violation of women’s human rights which runs in direct opposition to principles of equality between women and men, and which may have short or long term negative effects on women’s health.

The remarks came following a story published earlier this week titled: ‘MP to propose Bill to ban Female Genital Mutilation.

Government backbencher Chris Fearne is to present a Private Member’s Bill he proposed to ban FGM, following the summer recess.

FGM is a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women's sexuality and enhances fertility. 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”.

At present, Maltese criminal law includes no policy documents on FGM and consequently, it is not specifically outlawed.

Further explaining her views, the Office of the Commissioner for Children said Female Genital Mutilation is to be condemned and combated with every legitimate means because it violates a number of fundamental rights of children, as these are set forth in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This practice falls foul of the right of the child to the ‘enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health…’ (UNCRC, Article 24), because the risk of short-term and long-term health complications in the girl child on whom FGM is performed is high, even when it is carried out in accordance with medical standards. It also deprives the girl child of what the World Health Organisation regards as an essential component of sexual health, that is the possibility of experiencing sexual pleasure later on in her life.

Because FGM is a medically unnecessary procedure that is forced on girl children, possibly against their will, the practice represents a gross violation of the right of the child “to express (her) views freely in all matters affecting (her), the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” (UNCRC, Article 12). Finally, FGM poses a serious discrimination between children in the enjoyment of their rights on the basis of sex, hence it is in breach of Article 2 of the UNCRC.

Consequently, the Office of the Commissioner for Children looks very favourably upon the Private Member’s Bill, particularly if this will help strengthen the country’s legal and policy framework by closing all legal loopholes to the practice of FGM.

“By enacting such a law, Malta will be further honouring its international obligations under Article 24, sub-article 3 of the UNCRC, which exhorts ‘States Parties (to) take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children’,” the office stated.

In its comments, the ministry pointed out Malta is already signatory to various international conventions which prevent and combat violence against women. 

“Our legislation, namely the criminal law, the child protection law, and the asylum law, also provide protection, however there is no specific criminal law provision on FGM,” it said. “Outlawing this practice specifically, will be a valuable legal development that further protects the dignity and integrity of women and girls”.

Legislative measures alone are not enough though.  We need to raise the awareness on the matter and discuss it openly, it highlighted.

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.

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