Tighten female genital mutilation bill, says human rights lawyer
Nurses’ union conveys national conference on female genital mutilation and forthcoming criminal law
Tim Attard Montalto
5 December 2013, 12:00am
A forthcoming bill to criminalise the barbaric act of female genital mutilation must be tightened to prevent defendants from invoking religious or cultural arguments in their defence, human rights lawyer Therese Commodini Cachia told an audience of nursing professionals.
A conference conveyed by nurses' union MUMN today heard Labour MP Chris Fearne present details of his private member's bill on FGM, the practice of removing external female genitalia.
World Health Organisation FACTSHEET
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises 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.
The practice is mostly carried out 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.
"It's more widespread then we think. It's a practice that has been going on for hundreds of years, affecting women of all ages, and in total up to 200 million suffer from the practice and its consequences," Fearne said, adding that the consequences sometimes come about later on in the woman's life.
Fearne said that, in Malta, very little research has been carried on the topic was rarely discussed by medical professionals.
The MP said at least 10 to 20 babies die per 1,000 deliveries as a result of FGM.
"It is the total or partial removal of external genitalia for no medical benefit... so this practice is intrinsically wrong not because it does not belong to our culture, but because there is no medical benefit whatsoever," Fearne said.
The bill will have its second reading next week, and will provide up to seven years' imprisonment for who commits the act, and 20 years in case of death.
Fearne also said that people who willfully fail to make a formal complaint on the act will be liable to a fine, regardless of their duty to confidentiality.
Commodini Cachia, a Nationalist candidate for MEP, described FGM as a violation that breached the entire spectrum of human rights. "It goes against the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to liberty and security, and the right to one's health," she said.
She said that whereas the practice of FGM may have originated in Africa, it has now become an issue on a global level.
"Malta has an international obligation to condemn FGM," she said.
"It's not just Africa's problem, but a worldwide problem due to the cultural diversity in other countries. Many people tend to support it because they think it makes their daughters marriageable... culture and religion should not be used as justification for this crime, which is why the Bill should make a clear reference that such arguments cannot be invoked as a defence."
"Human rights are universal, and should be exempt from any cultural rituals," she said.
With regard to the new bill to criminalise FGM - which states that consent from the person involved is not justification - Commodini Cachia said that it should also ensure that culture and religious practises were legally justifications.
She said that whilst it was encouraging that Malta was taking steps against FGM, the legislation process was only the start.
"The criminalisation of FGM is not enough; we need strategies in the health and education department to further its awareness amongst Maltese," she said, stressing that Malta could not be considered exempt from the places in which the process could be carried out.
The President of the National Council for Women, Mary Gaerty said that many women in western countries did not even know about FGM.
She said that, contrary to belief, several Muslim countries did not promote the practice, proving that it was "a culture thing, not a religious one".
"Violence of any kind must be condoned and FGM certainly falls within that category," she said.
Tim Attard Montalto joined MaltaToday in 2013 as a reporter.
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