WHO CHERISHED THE GIRL; THE LAW OR THE FAMILY?  Criminalization of Female Genital Mutilation under Ethiopian Laws

Apr 07 2020


The 1995 Ethiopian constitution and the Ethiopian National Harmful Traditional Practice Strategy have denounced harmful traditional practices that are against women and girls. Additionally, the 2004 Criminal Code has clearly criminalized such practice as a crime against girls and women. On the other hand, though there is a reduction in the prevalence of the practice 74% in 2005 to 65% in 2016, the practice deeply continues in a rural part of the country having different justifications. Besides, fear of punishment in some areas the practice conducted in secret and the risk becomes severe. This has implied that there is doubt on the criminalization of such practice and a challenge for the enforcement of the law. 

The 2004 Ethiopian Criminal Code has criminalized Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for the first time. However, the code has different limitations and failed to criminalize FGM in its full scale. The criminal code becomes uncertain to define and list out those different types of circumcisions. Besides, it criminalized female circumcision without age restriction, including adult women. This would raise the issue of self-harm and the consent of mature women. All these gaps would imply the code has failed to deeply enter the cultural traditions of the societies and criminalize female circumcision as comprehensive. This has created a gap in the society who practices it and becomes a challenge for law enforcement officials.

As the practice revealed the traditional practice of female circumcision and FGM/C carried out on infants soon after birth to matured women and girls. It is conducted on infants who did not know what is happening to adults who have knowledge of it but perform the practice to be loved by their family, future husband, and peers. It is also carried out in secret or publicly accompanied by different ceremonies. Besides, the tradition conducted from the less severe to the grave one infibulation and sometimes it will take the life of the girl.

However, all these traditional practices have a common purpose and objectives. The relatives conducted this ritual activity to bless the futurity of their child and no one has bad intent and none of the relatives want to harm their child. Because harm can be identified from the intent of the perpetrator and moral element identified from the intent or negligence of the perpetrator. In the practice of FGM, the perpetrators are relatives, including the mother who intentionally carried the tradition by thinking the futurity of her child in good faith. Thus, in such a case, it is difficult to punish them without the proper moral element to inflict harm to the victim. This will raise the question of who cherished the circumcised girl; the law or the family.

The law seems that it employed the constitutive approach and perceives what is happening today disregarding the perception of the society and the futurity of the child or the women. Accordingly, it criminalized female circumcision as crimes against women and children. On the other hand, the parents who worried about the development of their child have ignored the pain of today and they focus on the future of the women and the child. Besides, without the proper enactment of the laws and institutions that give support for the victim/circumcised girl, punishing the relatives may be re-victimization of the child and it can hide the practice.

Therefore, having a clear provision that criminalizes FGM would have a deterrent effect. Nonetheless, criminalization is not a primary solution to end female circumcision in Ethiopia. The practice is deeply entered the society and it is carried out by close relatives of the victims having different justifications. Thus, beyond criminalization, the government must use other alternatives like education and awareness creation campaigns. This will reduce the practice and the government will achieve its objectives, the elimination of female genital mutilation by 2025.

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