By Omar Bah
The leader of the opposition Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) has advised National Assembly Members to amend the law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).
Despite being banned in the country since 2015, this harmful practice continues to be practiced secretly.
However, the recent conviction of three women for prohibited excisions on eight babies sparked intense debate in the country, where 75% of adolescent girls have been subjected to the practice.
Political and religious leaders in The Gambia are actively campaigning to decriminalise the practice. Imam Abdoulie Fatty, a supporter of excision, and legislator Sulayman Saho, who has called for decriminalisation in the country’s parliament, are the driving forces behind this controversial issue.
Commenting on the matter, barrister, GMC leader and former interior minister Mai Fatty toldThe Standard in an exclusive: “I urge parliament to amend the law and render female circumcision a choice for parents. Advocacy groups could then continue to persuade and educate parents and guardians about the practice.
“It should be amended with in-built mechanisms to permit circumcision and prevent mutilation. It should be amended with a view to certification, licensing, standardisation and regulating its practice. Licensed and certified practitioners [medical practitioners] may even be required to pay tax for revenue, and a database of legally and medically licensed persons may be created and managed,” he suggested.
He said the state should take another look at this law, ensuring that “our laws reflect the subjective moral and cultural values of our societies and not imported foreign ideas”.
“Female genital circumcision (FGC) should not be unlawful in The Gambia. It should not be criminalised. The statutory definition should be amended in consultation with guidelines from scholars consistent with the cultural and religious beliefs of a sizeable segment of society. It should attain the dual objectives of medical safety and conviction compliance,” Fatty added.
The trained lawyer said the UN and other advocates of FGM “got it all wrong”, arguing that in the Gambian context, “it is not about mutilation”.
“There is a clear distinction between genital mutilation and genital circumcision. In The Gambia, we practice male and female circumcision and not mutilation. Genital mutilation is alien to Gambian cultural practice, though some entities, particularly those created for its advocacy and making huge financial gains out of it, would like to convince us otherwise. To demolish the system, advocates include all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external genitalia in four categorisations,” he argued.
He added that there is “no conceptual, linguistic, or etymological nexus between mutilation and circumcision”.
“I support statutorily regulating the practice of female circumcision with a view to certification, licensing, standardisation and eliminating over-exaggerated, infrequent risks associated with it. It is improper to lump circumcision and mutilation in one bundle,” he noted.
He said the 2020 Gambia Demographic and Health Survey reveals exclusively the statistics on the total number of women and girls (73%) who were circumcised and not mutilated.
“It is universally accepted by the majority of Gambians that circumcision does not constitute mutilation. Male circumcision is legal. It would make no sense in the English language to substitute circumcision with mutilation. If that were to be tenable, then male circumcision should also be referred to as male genital mutilation, potentially subject to possible statutory proscription. We all know such a notion would be outrageous,” he stated.
Fatty argued that it is the inalienable right of a parent, parents, or guardians to decide what is in the best interests of their boy or girl child.
“This is a universal truth, save for clear evidence of endangerment or some grievous parenting defect. Denying parents, the discretion to circumcise their child by law is a violation of their substantive parental rights over the child. To contend that the Gambian girl child must be protected against legitimate decisions of Gambian parents on the anvil that such children were incapable of consent at such a tender age is horrendously fallacious,” he said.