Despite Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) being prevalent in India amongst the Dawoodi Bohra community and some Sunni Muslim sects, India does not have a separate law against it.
During an ongoing Public Interest Litigation seeking a ban on FGM, the Supreme Court of India remarked that the practice is a clear violation of a woman’s bodily integrity as laid down in the Indian constitution.
FGM among the Bohra community – where it is referred to as Khafz – was shrouded in secrecy until 2015, when the first-known anti-FGM/Khafz case against a Bohra religious leader and two others went to trial in Australia.
In April 2017, a Michigan-based doctor from the Bohra community was arrested and charged, along with two others, for performing FGM. This is the first time in the US anyone has faced prosecution under the federal FGM law.
In India, 25 representatives from the global anti-FGM movement, and UN agencies recently came together to discuss the actions needed to eliminate this harmful practice by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, at a roundtable organized by WeSpeakOut and Equality Now.
In a joint statement participants concluded:
“FGM is a violation of the human rights of women and girls, under both international law and the Indian constitution…. It has no health benefits, and in fact, often has both short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences.”
Highlighting the need for protection of young girls, they stated it is the Indian Government’s responsibility to ensure instances of FGM/Khafz are prosecuted, under existing criminal laws.
Indian legal system should include the WHO’s full definition of FGM (including Khafz) and introduce a separate law banning the practice.
Participants recommended the Government must create awareness on the negative impacts of FGM, specifically asking doctors to refrain from performing it and prioritizing preventive measures. The Indian Medical Association has since issued a statement against FGM.
Masooma Ranalvi, WeSpeakOut Founder, says:
“Although sharing my story helped act as a catalyst, what is happening is about much more than my personal experience. We are living in a time where women have really found their voices. Centerstaging this much secret and hidden issue through personal narratives has helped us garner support for our campaign.”
Shelby Quast, Equality Now Regional Director of the Americas, says:
“The key to addressing the practice is to reframe the issue as a child protection and human rights issue, rather than a religious one.”
For these measures to be successful there must be political will. Following PM Modi’s recent meeting with Bohra religious leaders, the Government must show urgency in tackling this issue by officially condemning the act and beginning discussions with religious leaders to end FGM.