The Child Protection Alliance cautions National Assembly on the consequences of repealing the FGM Law

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Lamin Fatty, National Coordinator of CPA

The Child Protection Alliance, a national network comprising 48 organizations and institutions in The Gambia dedicated to child welfare, has cautioned the national assembly about the consequences of repealing the contentious FGM law.

In presenting their position paper on the matter, which is under debate and consultation with the Joint Committee on Health, Women, Children, Refugees, Disaster, and Humanitarian Relief, the Alliance asserts that lawmakers are obligated to uphold both local and international laws concerning the ban of the practice.

“The Child Protection Alliance is in total opposition to repealing the Women’s Amendment Act 2015 to ban FGC. The National Assembly has a constitutional mandate to ensure that the State fulfills its domestic, regional, and international obligations as set out in national, regional, and international laws. The impact of this bill, therefore, will only make the Gambia renege from its domestic, regional, and international commitments, hence further endangering the rights and dignity of girls and women. This bill serves no national benefit other than to put the name and dignity of the Republic of the Gambia into disrepute in the eyes of the world. It will be an unprecedented and unique setback never seen before. 

Considering the foregoing, CPA hereby reminds NAMs of their legal obligation to ensure that all international agreements they ratify are upheld. This means NAMs and the National Assembly have a duty to monitor the Government to ensure that both domestic and international laws are enforced to protect the rights of citizens, especially girls and women. This bill must be rejected in total. Instead, the National Assembly should strengthen its oversight function to ensure that public institutions are performing their duties to protect and fulfill human rights,” the Alliance said in a position paper signed by its national coordinator, Lamin Fatty, and seen by TAT. 

The Child Protection Alliance says they have been keenly following and monitoring the National Assembly debates on the private member Bill that seeks to repeal sections 32A and 32B of the Women’s Act, which criminalizes female genital mutilation since 2015. 

“The Bill referred to female circumcision as a practice deeply rooted in the ethnic, traditional, cultural, and religious beliefs of the majority of Gambian people. The bill’s mover claims the bill’s objective was to uphold religious purity and safeguard cultural norms and values. The Bill further stressed that the current ban on female circumcision is a direct violation of citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion as guaranteed by the Constitution and international law. 

It is our understanding that the reason for religious purity is ambiguous at best and weak at worst in that the objects and reasons of the bill did not make reference to any authenticated Surah in the Holy Quran or Hadith that makes the practice obligatory on girls and women. Conversely, there exists no Hadith or provisions in the Holy Quran that prohibit a woman from performing her religious duties and obligations on account of not being circumcised. Several Islamic jurists and clerics have abundantly explained that circumcision is obligatory for men and only recommended for women. However, it is also established by jurists that circumcision for women can be abandoned, given the actual and potential harm it poses to the health and life of girls and women. Apparently, this bill completely ignores the actual and potential harm to the reproductive health and rights of girls and women.  It is observed that in most Muslim-majority countries, FGM has either been banned or criminalized altogether, or most citizens hardly perform the practice.” 

” It is important that in most Muslim-majority countries, FGM has been legally banned on the advice of Islamic jurists that the practice is not obligatory. Consequently, there is no justification to continue the practice when it is also established that FGM has actual and potential harm to girls and women. Therefore, to subject children to this practice when they have not reached the age of consent is a direct violation of the Constitution, which states that the right to practice one’s culture should not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others, in this case, the girl-child.

Furthermore, contrary to the claims of the mover of the bill that banning FGM contravenes the principles of international law, which guarantee the preservation and practice of culture, both regional and international laws have unambiguously stipulated the abolition of the practice. Article 5(b) of the AU Protocol on Women (Maputo Protocol) prohibits FGM in all forms, including medicalization of the practice. Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children prohibits harmful social and cultural practices such as FGM. Furthermore, Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as well as Article 2(f) of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), equally prohibit all forms of harmful practices. Hence, this bill is a direct violation of both the Gambian Constitution and regional and international laws which have already been ratified by the Gambia.” 

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