Deeqa Dahir Nuur, a 10-year-old Somalian girl, died last week from complications related to female genital mutilation (FGM). The incident was the first FGM-related death that Somali authorities have confirmed in many years, despite the fact that approximately 98% of girls and women in the country have undergone FGM, often in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Nuur’s case made international headlines, leading to public outrage and calls for justice — and now it seems justice may be served.
The Somali government announced on Wednesday that it would pursue its first-ever FGM prosecution for Nuur’s death.
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Though FGM remains legal in Somalia, Attorney General Ahmed Ali Dahir told journalists on Wednesday that the government intends to prosecute the case “straight away."
"Prosecuting this case will not be delayed because we don't yet have a law banning FGM … We can do it under the existing penal codes in Somalia," Dahir said.
Activists are hopeful the monumental case will set meaningful change in motion.
"It is encouraging to see Somalia take a stand and prosecute those responsible for the tragic death of this 10-year-old girl … The political will demonstrated so far in this case is something to be applauded, harnessed, and exploited for the benefit of all women and girls in Somalia,” Flavia Mwangovya, Manager of Equality Now's End Harmful Practices Program, told Global Citizen.
“We hope it will send a powerful message throughout the country and around the world that FGM can have very severe consequences, and we encourage Somalia to go even further by passing an explicit law to end this harmful practice," Mwangovya said.
At least 200 million girls and women alive in the world today have undergone some form of FGM — the partial or total removal of female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGM procedures range from pricking or scrapping genital tissue to the total removal of external genitalia. Many women and girls experience pain, infection, and infertility as a result of FGM procedures, which often are performed by untrained local “cutters.”
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Nuur was subjected to the most severe form of FGM, Type III, which involves the removal of a girl’s clitoris and external genitalia before her vaginal opening is sewn closed leaving a small hole to allow her to urinate and menstruate. Girls who undergo Type III FGM — common in Somalia — typically must be “re-opened” in order to engage in sexual intercourse after marriage.
Dr. Abdirahman Omar Hassan, one of the doctors who treated the young girl two days after she was cut, told CNN that Nuur had undergone one of the most extreme cases of FGM he’d ever seen, adding that he had seen many cases of FGM because the practice is so widespread.
“They cut the clitoris, one side of the vulva was cut, the other side was wounded in three areas,” Hassan said, describing Nuur’s injuries to VOA News. “I never saw anyone who was mutilated like that in my life.”
Somalia has the highest FGM rate in the world, according to data from the United Nations, but girls and women are subjected to the practice in many parts of the world. Egypt and Eritrea are among those with high rates of FGM. Cases of FGM are also on the rise in the United States.
FGM is performed for cultural, not religious reasons. FGM is generally performed on young girls before puberty to protect their “purity,” preserve their virginity, and prevent them from engaging in sexual activity before marriage. In some cultures, girls who have not undergone FGM are considered less desirable for marriage.
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Hassan told CNN that Nuur was bleeding and convulsing when he attempted to treat her. The cutter who performed the FGM procedure on the child is believed to have severed a vein with an unsterilized blade. As a result, Nuur contracted tetanus.
"This is just one amongst many instances where girls have needlessly lost their lives as a result of FGM, the potential ripple effect of this recent death will hopefully help uncover the dire extent in Somalia, where the most extreme form of FGM is practised,” Mwangovya said.
“This case can help form the basis for conversations on the need to strengthen the legal framework and provide a starting point for actors such as Equality Now and other women’s rights groups and activists regarding renewed and strengthened advocacy around legal reform," Mwangovya added.