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Egypt Officials Ban Female Circumcision

The Associated Press
Friday, June 29, 2007; 11:05 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- The death of a 12-year-old Egyptian girl at the hands of a doctor performing female circumcision has sparked a public outcry and prompted health and religious authorities to ban the practice.

The girl, Badour Shaker, died this month while undergoing the procedure in an illegal clinic in the southern town of Maghagh. Her mother, Zeniab Abdel Ghani, told the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that she paid about $9 to a female physician to perform the procedure.

The mother also told the paper the doctor tried to bribe her to withdraw a lawsuit accusing the physician of murdering her daughter, in return for $3,000, but she refused.

A forensic inquiry into the case showed the girl's death was caused by an anesthesia overdose.

The case sparked widespread condemnation of female circumcision, or genital mutilation, and was closely followed in Egyptian newspapers, which also reported the girl had passed out sweets to pupils in her class earlier on the day of her death, to celebrate her good grades.

It also evoked memories of a 1995 CNN television documentary depicting a barber circumcising a 10-year-old girl in a Cairo slum.

On Thursday, the Egyptian Health Ministry issued a decree stating that it is "prohibited for any doctors, nurses, or any other person to carry out any cut of, flattening or modification of any natural part of the female reproductive system, either in government hospitals, nongovernment hospitals or any other places."

It warned that violators would be punished, but did not specify the penalty. The ban is not as enforceable as a law, which requires passage in the national legislature.

Female genital mutilation usually involves the removal of the clitoris and other parts of female genitalia. Those who practice it say it tames a girl's sexual desire and maintains her honor.

It is practiced by Muslims and Christians alike, deeply rooted in the Nile Valley region and parts of sub-Saharan African, and is also done in Yemen and Oman.

The ban by the Health Ministry marks a return to a 1950s government order prohibiting hospitals and doctors from carrying out the procedure.

After that order, the practice continued in Egypt, mostly carried out by barbers, midwives and other amateurs. The order was reversed in 1995, shortly after the CNN documentary, with only medical staff permitted to perform the procedure.

Although the documentary embarrassed Cairo internationally, it failed to propel the parliament to pass legislation penalizing female circumcision.

A 2003 survey by UNICEF said that 97 percent of married women in Egypt have undergone genital mutilation.

A recent study by Egypt's Ministry of Health and Population found that 50.3 percent of girls between the age of 10-18 years have been circumcised.

After the girl's death, the country's supreme religious authorities stressed that Islam is against female circumcision.

"Its prohibited, prohibited, prohibited," Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said on the privately owned al-Mahwar network.

While top clerics insist the practice has nothing to do with Islam, parents, especially in villages and Cairo slums, believe they are helping their daughters. They think circumcision is necessary for cleanliness and to protect a girl's virginity before marriage.

Opponents say girls can bleed to death, suffer chronic urinary infections and have life-threatening complications in childbirth as a result of the procedure.

The Al-Masry Al-Youm daily reported the doctor in Shaker's case denied allegations of malpractice and said the girl was in a "bad condition" to start with, and was immediately transferred to a regular hospital where she died. The doctor was not identified.

Egypt's renowned feminist activist, Nawal el-Saadawi, 76, who has published a biography on her own experience with circumcision, wrote: "Badour, did you have to die for some light to shine in the dark minds? Did you have to pay with your dear life a price ... for doctors and clerics to learn that the right religion doesn't cut children's organs."

© 2007 The Associated Press