FGC or FGM must be treated as a public health issue General consensus at stakeholder forum Must be a penal offence – Prof. Goonesekere Thalatha to meet ACJU at latter’s request

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By 2017-12-08

BY Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

The general consensus at a recent forum held at the Parliament complex this week, one which was chaired by the Minister of Justice, with regard to the practice of the khatna (circumcision) ritual performed on females in certain Muslim communities, was that it should be treated as a public health issue.

The general consensus was that it should be seen as a public health issue as opposed to a cultural practice which had religious associations. The ritual is alternately described as Female Genital Cutting (FGC) by some and by others including the World Health Organization as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A meeting chaired by Minister of Justice, Thalatha Atukorale and which involved the Minister of Women and Child Affairs, the Chairperson of the National Committee on Women,the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo Prof.

Savitri Goonesekere and a group of victims of the khatna ritual and practice (a group of females from the Dawoodi Bohra community), was held on 6 December afternoon and evening at the Parliament complex premises, to discuss a host of issues which included child marriage under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (in which regard the report of the Muslim personal law reforms committee, chaired by former Supreme Court Judge, President's Counsel, Saleem Marsoof is being awaited with bated breath), and FGC and FGM. According to the Director of Public Affairs, Policy and Advocacy at the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, Madusha Dissanayake, who was also present at the discussion, legal scholar Prof. Goonesekere had stated that it should be taken as a penal offence.

"Minister Atukorale's response was favourable in that she said that she needs time to look into all the facts and that she would definitely continue to work with the Muslim community in this regard. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama have since requested a meeting with Atukorale and she has consented to meet with them. She also spoke of the need to raise awareness in relation to the issue among women, mothers, families' and decision makers, so that fairly sound decisions could be made and taken. There was a positive vibe. We need to keep the momentum going without allowing such to die down," Dissanayake added.

She also explained that the public should be enlightened by the media about the legal provisions currently available to address the issue of FGC or FGM, whichever way one interpreted such, and provisions in the law which were not being utilized to tackle such. Dissanayake also called for the spotlight to be turned onto the fact that it was registered medical practitioners who were in certain cases performing the said ritual and practice on children as young as 40 days and children as old as seven years.Elsewhere, on the question of teenage pregnancies, of girl children below the age of 18, she pointed out that, "A child cannot bear another child."

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