By VOA News
KHARTOUM — Sudan has passed laws banning female genital mutilation and allowing non-Muslims to consume alcohol, the justice minister said late Saturday.
The move appears to be a reversal of nearly four decades of hard-line Islamist policies which limited the freedoms of women.
Along with banning female genital mutilation, Sudan’s Sovereign Council last week reversed a law which formerly required women to have a permit from a male family member to travel with their children.
Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdock hailed the changes as “an important step in reforming the justice system.”
While women’s rights advocates celebrated the long-awaited decision, they warned that the practice of FGM remains culturally entrenched in Sudan. A 2014 survey backed by the United Nations found that 87% of Sudanese women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 had been subjected to the procedure.
Some critics, including women’s rights advocates, noted the timing of the decision, stating that as the country battles the novel coronavirus pandemic and continued fuel shortages, they will have few resources to spread awareness of the new laws.
Anyone found guilty of performing the procedure will be subject to three years in prison, the Associated Press reported.
Alcoholic drinks have been banned in Sudan since President Jaafar Nimeiri announced Islamic law in 1983 — a move that was extended by recently ousted president Omar al Bashir.
Roughly 3% of Sudan’s population is non-Muslim, according to United Nations estimates.
The transitional government, established last August following the ouster of Bashir after months of protests, approved the new measures last week.