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New Bill To Shield Children

The Nation (Nairobi), 7 February 2001

Nairobi - A Bill which proposes to criminalise girls' circumcision will soon be tabled in Parliament, a judge says.

Appellate Judge Effie Owour yesterday said the Bill aims at protecting children aged 18 and below from cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to affect the child's life, health, social welfare, dignity and physical or psychological development.

The judge observed that the law is silent on what penalties should be meted out on those who forcibly circumcise girls under the guise of "cultural rites or tradition practices".

Lady Justice Owour was speaking during a symposium on the total eradication of female genital mutilation at a Nairobi hotel.

The one-day workshop, organised by Unicef, assembled participants from non-governmental and media organisations in Somalia. The objective of the meeting was to, among other things, review the long struggle against this harmful practise as well as analyse the medical complications arising from the "cut".

The Children's Bill 2000 also calls for stiffer penalties against offenders.

A Cairo-based university lecturer, Dr Ahmed Ragi, said female circumcision was not a religious obligation as some Muslims claimed.

"Islam actually forbids the practise and that is why muslims in strong Islamic nations such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, and Yemeni do not carry out the rite,".

Dr Ragi said between an estimated 85 million to 114 million girls and women worldwide had undergone the operations.

"Most of the victims live in Africa where the harmful rite is practised in at least 28 countries.

"The rite has however, become an international public health issue after women refugees have introduced the same in the USA and other Western countries,".

A Somali-based midwife, Ms Edna Aden said eradication of the harmful rite was gaining "widespread acceptance" among a majority of the country's citizen.

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