NAIROBI – Kenya’s constitutional court has dismissed a petition to strike down the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which outlaws the traditional practice of female circumcision.
Women’s rights groups welcomed the ruling and said the judges’ pronouncement would protect millions of women and girls.
The 2017 petition sought to invalidate the FGM measure on the ground that it took away a grown woman’s right to undergo the cut.
Judge Lydia Achode read the ruling on behalf of the other two judges:
“Our final orders shall be as follows: The amended petition is devoid of merit and is hereby dismissed. Two, the attorney general … shall forward a proposal to the national assembly to consider amendment of Section 19 of the prohibition of female genital mutilation … with a view to prohibiting all human practices of FGM as set out in this judgment above.”
Sofia Rajab Leteipan, a lawyer with Equality Now, an organization that fights for women’s and girls’ rights, said the ruling had saved women and girls from the practice.
“We are extremely pleased with the judgment from the three judges, and I think this judgment goes very far in reaffirming the rights of women and girls to human dignity, to their right to health and also ensuring that we do not use cultural practices as an excuse to undermine the rights of women and girls,” Leteipan said.
Law passed decade ago
In 2011, Kenya passed legislation barring female genital mutilation, also called female circumcision. The legislation imposed harsh penalties on those involved in cutting girls and women, including a minimum fine of $1,800 or three years’ imprisonment.
Speaking after Wednesday’s ruling, Tatu Kamau, the petitioner, she said she was not happy with the court’s ruling.
“Generally for me I am disappointed,” she said. “I feel that the rights of women have been subsumed by those of a child.”
“We have also discussed the absence of consent by victims. … We are not persuaded that one can choose to undergo a harmful practice from medical and anecdotal evidence presented by the respondent. We find that limiting this right is reasonable in an open and democratic society,” the judge said.
According to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, more than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in 31 countries.
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