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BMJ. Sep 13, 2003; 327(7415): 580.
PMCID: PMC1140691

Sudan to tighten law on female genital mutilation

Following a recent symposium in Khartoum, Sudan, on the abolition of female genital mutilation to ensure safe motherhood, Sudan's government has agreed to take further measures to abolish the practice.

Although the practice was originally outlawed in 1946 and again in 1974, the United Nations has pointed out that "Sudan has the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation in the world."

During the symposium, organised by Sudan's ministry of health in conjunction with Unicef and sponsored by the Japanese government, the health minister Ahmed Osman Bilal expressed his government's commitment to eradicate the practice at all levels. He stated that it was now considered a prohibited act for all medical practitioners.

He endorsed a recommendation to publicise and implement the ban and to introduce stiff penalties for those who continued to perform the operations.

Ms Linda Osarenren, senior programme officer with the UN inter-African committee, said that northern Sudan had between 70% and 90% prevalence of the "worst form of female genital mutilation: type III infibilation," which involves the complete removal of all external genitalia.

Ms Osarenren told the BMJ that the situation had improved from a year ago, when certain Sudanese health professionals had been actively recommending the health benefits of the practice and some religious leaders had been calling for the legalisation of the practice.

The inter-African committee believes that although it will be difficult, significant progress can be achieved. A spokesman said: "In some areas where there have been intensive intervention programmes, it has gone down to only 51% prevalence."

Ms Osarenren said: "One of the greatest problems in eradicating the practice is that people have the mistaken impression that FGM [female genital mutilation] is a religious injunction and if you touch a people's religion you touch their soul." She explained that there was also a paradox with the practice "because the procedure is carried out in an atmosphere of love and celebration."

Speaking at the symposium, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, said the practice was a "clear indicator of Sudanese society's broad condoning of gender inequality, violence against women and children, and the violation of women's reproductive and health rights, as well as children's rights."


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