Egyptian girl Suheir Al Bataa who died in 2013 after a female genital mutilation operation. Image Credit: Courtesy: Al Masry Al Youm newspaper

Cairo: A court decision revoking the medical licence of a surgeon at a state-run hospital in connection with the 2013 death of a girl after she was subjected to an illegal operation despite the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) has been welcomed by medical experts and members of the public.

Earlier this week, the Disciplinary Court in the Nile Delta province of Mansura revoked the medical licence of Raslan Fadl, months after he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Suheir Al Bataa due to complications blamed on FGM surgery he performed on the 13-year-old.

The court expelled Fadl from his job as a surgeon in a state-run hospital in the province. The court also handed administrative penalties to two other doctors in the same hospital for failing to save the child’s life from the post-FGM complications. The three were convicted of medical negligence.

Last year, an appeals court sentenced Fadl to two years in prison on charges of manslaughter related to Al Bataa’s death and three more months for violating a ban on FGM.

The court also ordered Fadl’s private clinic closed for a year. Al Bataa’s father was given a suspended three-month sentence on charges of complicity.

The convictions were Egypt’s first since the FGM procedures became a criminal offence in the country in 2008.

“These rulings should deter doctors who continue to carry out circumcision on girls in violation of the law,” said Zuhra Khedr, a member of a non-governmental campaign against female circumcision. “However, the situation requires far more than a court judgement in order to eliminate this brutal practice,” she told Gulf News.

“The media and men of religion should cooperate in spreading awareness among people, especially in rural areas, and explain to them that circumcision of girls has nothing to do with Islam or Christianity.”

An estimated 90 per cent of Egypt’s women have become victims of the practice, which is believed to have been observed in the country for thousands of years. The procedure, which includes the removal of all or part of the clitoris, is usually done for local girls before reaching puberty.

In the past, FGM was performed in Egypt by local midwives and even barbers without the use of anaesthetics, using knives or razors. In recent years, however, some 82 per cent of FGM operations in Egypt have been performed by medical practitioners, according to official figures.

“Some doctors, who have no conscience, take advantage of parents’ mistaken beliefs,” said Atef Shalaby, a Cairo dentist.

“These doctors deserve the toughest punishment for inflicting physical and psychological harm on girls as well as for linking this practice to religion.”

Experts say that severe forms of FGM can lead to life-long psychosexual problems and troubles related to menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth.

Last December, Egyptian authorities launched a five-year plan to curb female circumcision, and they say their efforts have started to pay off.

According to the Health Ministry figures, the practice declined to 92 per cent in 2014 among Egyptian women aged up to 49 compared to 96 per cent nine years earlier.

The figures also show a further decline among teenagers. Around 61 per cent of young people between 15 to 17 underwent FGM in 2014 compared to 74 per cent in 2008.

In recent years, increasing numbers of educated parents in Egyptian cities have refused to subject their daughters to circumcision. Hesham Abdul Rahman, an architect, is one of them.

“I still remember the troubles that my sister suffered after she had been circumcised. Therefore, I decided not to do the same to any of my three daughters,” the 51-year-old said.

“Of course, any punishment against doctors involved in this horrible practice raises hopes. But, I think awareness is the key word in combating girls’ circumcision,” he added.

“This tradition is still alive in poor and rural areas because people there erroneously think it is a must in Islam and a guarantee of their girls’ chastity. Here lies the real problem.”