Activists press Indonesia to ban genital mutilation

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 12 February 2013 17:52 GMT
The Indonesian government is under pressure to re-impose its former outright ban on female genital mutilation

By Emma Batha

ROME (TrustLaw) – Indonesian campaigners fighting to end female genital mutilation (FGM) have told their government it must ban the practice in the light of the new U.N. General Assembly resolution on eradicating FGM.

It is believed to be the first case where campaigners have used the U.N. resolution to exert pressure on a government.

Indonesia banned FGM in 2006, but the Health Ministry issued a regulation in 2010 which allows the practice if it is carried out by medical professionals, such as doctors, midwives and nurses.

Indonesia's National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) told an international FGM conference in Rome last week that it had written to the health minister urging him to revoke the regulation.

“The U.N. has made clear that female circumcision is totally unacceptable and must stop. We expect our government to respect the resolution and ban this practice immediately,” Commissioner Neng Dara Affiah told TrustLaw on the sidelines.

The resolution - adopted unanimously on Dec. 20 - calls on U.N. member states to enact and enforce legislation prohibiting FGM, a practice thought to affect around 3 million girls a year.

Neng Dara Affiah said the health minister had not replied formally, but had told them he was discussing the regulation with religious leaders.

She said the country's largest Muslim organisation supported the practice, arguing that it should be allowed under freedom of religion.

Campaigners at No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), which was instrumental in pushing for the U.N. resolution, said they were delighted the Indonesian activists had been so quick off the mark.

“It's fabulous news and very exciting,” said FGM programme coordinator Alvilda Jablonko. “It is great to see that the resolution is already energising the campaign in this way, and we hope others will now also use the resolution to encourage and exert pressure on their governments to take all measures to eliminate this human rights violation.”

Delegates at the Rome conference, hosted by NPWJ, condemned the “medicalisation of FGM” - the trend for FGM to be done by doctors and nurses to minimise health risks.

They stressed that FGM was a violation of human rights and could not be treated simply as a health issue.

FGM ranges from practices such as pricking or scraping to the most extreme form which involves cutting the clitoris and labia and sewing up the vaginal opening.

In Indonesia the practice may involve cutting, pricking or scraping the clitoral hood until bleeding occurs. Amnesty International reports that in some cases a small piece of the clitoris may be cut.

Indonesians call the procedure circumcision. Supporters say it should not be compared to more severe forms of FGM found elsewhere in the world. 

But campaigners say the practice is still a rights violation which inflicts harm and suffering. 

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.