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Bill would impose jail for female genital mutilation

The Irish Times

MARIE O'HALLORAN

LEGISLATION TO prevent female genital mutilation “is the first step to ensuring this practice does not take hold in Ireland”, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has told the Dáil. Introducing the Bill, he described the practice of the partial or total removal of external female genitalia as a “gross violation of women’s human rights”.

Dr Reilly said that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women worldwide had been subjected to some form of such mutilation or cutting, and a further three million girls were at risk each year.

“We know that there are more than 3,000 women living in Ireland who have undergone FGM [female genital mutilation].”

National and international experts had been consulted for the legislation which “will bring Ireland in line with international best practice as well as providing indisputable legal clarity on the issue”, which is practised in at least 28 African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

The Minister said such mutilation was “an expression of gender inequality”. In many cases parents wanted their children to undergo the practice “to avoid stigmatisation or social exclusion by the rest of the community”.

Stressing there were no health benefits to the practice, Dr Reilly highlighted the dangers, including severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, difficulty passing urine, infection, psychological trauma and potentially fatal sepsis.

The Minister said one of the biggest risks for young girls living in Ireland was visiting countries where the practice was prevalent. “Parents are coming under pressure to have FGM carried out on their daughters when visiting their country of origin.”

The Bill deals with this by making it an offence to remove a girl or woman from the State for the purpose of such mutilation.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said “many communities may not even question the practice or have long forgotten the reasons for it”.

He said it was “often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity”. Mr Kelleher added it was “critically important” that “we accept and acknowledge that individuals with traditions in communities believe” the practice was part of tradition and culture, but “we must ensure all legislative provision is made available” to prevent this.

Sinn Féin spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the Bill alone could not address the needs of women affected, “but we hope that it will prevent girls and women resident in Ireland from falling victim to the practice”.

The Bill creates penalties including prison for the practice in the State and for “bringing a girl or woman outside the State for that purpose”. Mr Ó Caoláin said it might be difficult to enforce this aspect but “we have an obligation to have the law in place, as a deterrent and as a means of dealing with the cases that arise”.

Independent Donegal South West TD Thomas Pringle said the legislation was only “one part of the necessary action”. It should be accompanied by awareness-raising measures among medical personnel, gardaí, social workers and teachers, he said.