Late last week, news broke out that an Egyptian doctor prosecuted for performing FGM had been acquitted. This particular doctor, Dr. Raslan Fadl, circumcised Suhair al-Bata’a in a botched operation that resulted in Suhair’s death. Suhair’s parents had paid Dr. Fadl 700 USD for his services, only taking him to court after their daughter’s death. This case has gained international prominence because it represents the first time that Egypt has prosecuted anyone who has performed the procedure. It represents the first time that Egypt’s law prohibiting FGM has been used, albeit in a fashion that leaves much to be desired. (Tragically, the law itself came about following the death of another girl, 12-year old Badour Shaker)
While Suhair’s case lets on plenty about the state of FGM advocacy in Egypt, it also complexifies the question of prosecuting FGM cases. For one, prosecuting FGM is only a recent development that has come up following the institution of national laws that outlaw the practice. Prosecution may involve proving intent of the parents or woman/girl to undergo circumcision, a task that may prove difficult if all actors collude to evade the law – as seems to have been the case in Egypt. Even more difficult is the question of imprisonment, where parents – who may be a family’s primary breadwinners – may face jail time leading to double traumatic experiences for the child in question.
Regardless of this difficulty, the Egyptian judicial system has failed Suhair. The 700 USD paid to keep her within tradition only resulted in her death. What’s more, the Egyptian law criminalizing FGM allows plaintiff and defendant to settle their case out of court. This loophole permits a family to collect compensation for their daughter’s death; actions that neither consider the violation of Suhair’s rights nor bring the dead back to life. That Suhair had refused to undergo the procedure only shows the extent to which her death calls for a more prudent judicial system that recognizes how FGM affects the livelihoods of women and girls. Such a judicial system must consider the cultural and socio-economic contexts within which FGM is practiced, but at no time should it esteem culture over life. Suhair and Badour are two girls too many.