Three months after a teenager died while undergoing female genital mutilation conducted by a doctor, Egypt is cracking down on the practice.
The Egyptian cabinet approved a draft bill on Sunday that would enact a punishment of five to seven years in prison for anyone who performs FGM, according to Ahram Online. Previously, the penalty was three months to two years.
The bill, which still has to be ratified by parliament, raises the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“A strong law is the first step to protecting every girl at risk,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh of women’s rights organization Equality Now said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “We have seen some reduction in FGM in Egypt, but at the same time health professionals and others are still not being held to account for carrying it out. With a better law, it is now more likely that this can change.”
Female genital mutilation involves the total or partial removal of, or injury to, the external female genitalia for no medical benefit, and can cause bleeding, infertility or death. The World Health Organization considers it a violation of women’s rights.
The practice of FGM has been illegal in Egypt since 2008, according to the BBC, but it is still widespread.
Egypt has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world, with 87 percent of women aged 15 to 49 having undergone the procedure, according to Unicef.
The issue came under a harsh spotlight in May when a 17-year-old girl passed away due to complications related to FGM performed by a registered doctor in Egypt’s Suez province.
The doctor, the first to be convicted for performing FGM in the country, was sentenced to two years in prison but only served three months after reconciling with the victim’s family, according to the Guardian.
Under the new bill, if the FGM procedure results in permanent disability or death, the penalty for the offender will be up to 15 years in prison, according to Gulf News. Parents who subject their daughters to the practice would also face one to three years of jail time.
Female genital mutilation is a problem worldwide: At least 200 million women alive today, across 30 countries, have undergone FGM, according to Unicef.
While the practice is predominantly concentrated in countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa, it has also been an issue in the U.S. and the U.K.