By Menna A. Farouk
CAIRO, Feb 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Egypt arrested a father and a retired nurse on Tuesday for carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) on a 15-year-old girl, after announcing plans to toughen the penalty to 20 years.
Police made the arrests a day after the crime was reported to the public prosecution by a doctor in a hospital about 35 km northeast of the capital, Cairo, said Sabry Osman, head of a child helpline that supports children subjected to violence.
"The surgery was done at home and when the girl had severe bleeding, the father transported her to a nearby hospital," Osman, who works for the state-run National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We followed up the case until the girl went out of hospital and returned home," Osman continued. "We are now in the process of offering the girl the psychological support that she needs after going through this incident."
Nearly 90% of Egyptian women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, according to a 2016 survey by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the ritual is practised widely by both Muslims and Christians despite a 2008 ban.
World leaders have pledged by 2030 to eradicate FGM, which typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, and can cause long-lasting mental and physical health problems, including infections and childbirth complications.
Egypt's cabinet last month approved a draft law hiking the maximum sentence for FGM from seven to 20 years, in a bid to stamp out the ancient practice.
The law was tightened in 2016 to make it a criminal offence to request or carry out the widely condemned practice but women's rights groups say the ban has not been well enforced.
"When an Egyptian girl died from FGM in a high profile case in 2013, the police were very slow to arrest anyone," said Brendan Wynne of the Five Foundation, which campaigns to end FGM globally. "The fact the police have acted in a day is a hopeful sign that the authorities are now taking this much more seriously."
In the 2013 case, a doctor was convicted of manslaughter for the 13-year-old girl's death after prosecutors appealed the initial verdict. Her father was also given a suspended sentence.
Maya Morsi, head of the National Council for Women, called on parliament to quickly approve the bill toughening the law.
"I do not understand the insistence of some families to carry out this crime against their children ... which often leads to death," she said in a statement.
But Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, said stiffer penalties would not be enough.
"Awareness campaigns, knocking on doors, sermons in mosques and in churches should be carried out to curb this crime," she said.
(Reporting by Menna A. Farouk, additional reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)