Philomena, a seven-year-old Kenyan was overjoyed when she was told that she
would be attending school with her brother. Philomena's mother, a few months
later, told her that they were going to do something special. Philomena got very
excited but to her surprise, she was given a scare which would be with her for
the whole life.
Her mother took her for a brutal and painful procedure which was a 'tradition'
in their community and every girl of Philomena's age has to go through it.
Philomena was cut between her legs, while her mother and grandmother held her
limbs. She passed out. When she woke up, she found her legs tied up closely to
stop the bleeding.
This is not the story of one girl but about a horrific custom that is followed
in many parts of the world in the name of culture and tradition. The process
does not have any health benefits but still many girls under the age of 18 goes
through it. Female Genital Mutilation is an unethical and a painful procedure of
removing completely or partially the external genitals of girls. The practice
has both physical and mental impact on the victims.
This could also lead to death of the person. However, many communities continue
to follow it. Globally, it is a violation of human right and is also against the
idea of utilitarianism. It is the need of the hour that nations realise the
ill-effects of this practice and pass legislations to stop this brutality.
Numerous United Nation assessments have found that the procedure of Female
Genital Mutilation is mostly prevalent in African and Middle Eastern nations.
Certain Asian and Latin American also carries out this harmful procedure on the
women residing there. Sadly, India is also one of the nations which is still
following this immoral tradition. 26 out of 29 countries in Africa and the
Middle East have passed certain legislations to curb the practice, however it is
still a long way to go to demolish this practice from its roots.
Female Genital Mutilation refers to the practice which includes all the
procedures of partially or totally removing the external genitals, or the other
injuries caused to remove the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Earlier, Female Genital Mutilation was referred to as female circumcision and
was considered to be similar to the process of male circumcision. However, in
practice, both the procedures are very different.
In male circumcision, only a part of the foreskin of the penis is removed
without impairing its sexual function. Thus, it was necessary to change the term
'female circumcision' to 'female genital mutilation' to define the procedure
more accurately. The females who have undergone this process were used to be
called as 'mutilated' regarding which they protested as the term highlighted the
long-term trauma suffered by the victims. Therefore, in order to respect the
feelings of the victims, 'female genital mutilation' is also called 'female
genital cutting.' 
World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Female Genital Mutilation into
four different types. These are as follow:
Clitorectomy: This procedure includes removal of the outer and visible part of the
clitoris, the most sensitive part of the female genitals (clitoral glans)
and/or the surrounding fold skin of clitoris (clitoral hood/prepuce).
Excision: It is the partial or complete removal of clitoral glans and inner fold of
vulva (labia minora), with or without the removal of outer fold of skins of
vulva (labia majora).
Infibulation: It refers to the process of narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a
covering seal through cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia
majora by stitching, with or without the removal of clitoral glans and
- This consists of all other harmful methods used on female genitals for
non-medical reasons such as- pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and
cauterizing the genital area.
Factors Responsible for Female Genital Mutilation
FGM has widely been recognized as human rights violation, however still it has
been carried out on at least 200 million girls and women in 31 countries. More
than 4 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM annually. Girls below the age
of 15 years are mostly subjected to this procedure.
There are various sociocultural factors that results into the practice of FGM
from one region to the other and within various families and communities. One of
the main factors which manifests the practice is entrenched gender inequality
and societal acceptance. Some cultures support it as a means of restraining in
girls' sensuality or protecting their purity. Others make it mandatory for girls
to undergo FGM as a condition of marriage or inheritance.
Where it is most common, civilizations frequently regard it as a rite of passage
for young women. Islam and Christianity do not endorse FGM, but religious
narratives are commonly used to justify the same. Since FGM is a social
tradition, parents may find it difficult to refuse to have their daughters
undergo the procedure for fear of their family being shunned or their daughters
deemed not eligible for marriage.
Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to comply to
what others do and have done, as well as the desire to be accepted socially and
the fear of rejection by the community, are powerful motivators to continue the
practice. FGM is frequently seen as an important part of a girl's upbringing and
a way to prepare her for maturity and marriage. FGM is frequently motivated by
preconceived notions about what constitutes acceptable sexual behaviour.
Its goal is to ensure marital fidelity and premarital virginity. Religious
leaders take a variety of perspectives on FGM: some support it, some believe it
is unrelated to religion, and yet others advocate for its abolition. Local power
and authority structures, such as civic leaders, religious leaders,
circumcisers, and even some health doctors, can all play a role in maintaining
the process. They can also be powerful advocates for the abolition of FGM if
they are well-informed. FGM is considered a cultural tradition in most societies
where it is practised, which is sometimes provided as a reason for its continued
FGM is performed for a variety of reasons by health-care professionals. Here
are a few examples:
- The idea that medicalized FGM has a lower risk of problems than non-medicalized
- The assumption that medicalizing FGM could be a first step toward its
- Health care providers who perform FGM are also part of FGM communities
and are bound by the same social norms.
- There may be a monetary incentive to carry out the procedure.
Utilitarianism and Female Genital Mutilation
FGM (female genital mutilation) is an immoral and unethical practise. It is a
needless practice that provides no health benefits to the girls and women who
are subjected to it. According to the principle of utilitarianism, we should
generate the greatest amount of pleasure for the largest number of people.
Utilitarians also believe that we should try to alleviate as much pain and
suffering as possible for as many people as possible. They also considered that
FGM is an unnecessary practice which has no health benefits on women.
It is also a very painful treatment with dangerous short and long-term
consequences, including death. The hedonic calculus, devised by Act Utilitarian
Jeremy Bentham, is a "scientific" process for evaluating which pleasures should
be pursued and which sufferings should be avoided. FGM is an example of a type
of pain that "should" be avoided. Individuals can use this idea to give good
arguments for their actions. Bentham thinks that we must always account for the
joys and sufferings while deciding what is the proper thing to do.
Some pleasures and sufferings are more intense than others, according to the
hedonic calculus and the principle of intensity. Girls and women in this culture
are subjected to excruciatingly painful experiences for no good reason.
The practise is carried out in the villages by midwives or elderly "experienced"
women who lack medical training and are not educated in the field of medicine.
FGM is not simply a risky procedure, but it also has physical, sexual, and
FGM is a dangerous and un-sterile treatment meted on women in numbers of nations
across the world. This treatment causes pain and suffering, which goes against
Utilitarianism's tenet of highest happiness.
These girls could face a lifetime of misery and suffering as a result of this
treatment, depending on the type of procedure and how it is performed. According
to research, an estimated 135 million girls and women have had FGM, with an
additional 2 million girls at danger each year.
This equates to almost 6,000 girls per day. Returning to the hedonic calculus,
the magnitude of misery and suffering inflicted on this culture's girls and
women is astonishing, and the numbers are overwhelming. Some cultural
relativists may claim that ethical understandings differ throughout cultures,
and that what is regarded ethically wrong in one society may be completely
acceptable in another after reading about FGM and the context in which it is
FGM on the other hand, does not follow Utilitarianism's greatest happiness
criterion because it comprises the deliberate infliction of severe pain and
suffering, and its consequences can be life-threatening. It is not only a
violation of female rights, but it is also a major violation of children's human
rights because it is most usually performed on girls ranging in age from birth
to puberty. Henceforth, on utilitarian principles, we should eliminate this
cultural practise entirely in order to provide the maximum amount of joy for the
biggest number of people affected.
India and Female Genital Mutilation
India has always been one of those countries where women and children were
deprived of their basic human and representation rights and are mostly subjected
to brutality in the name of tradition, ranging from sati (now banned) to sexual
exploitation. Not surprisingly, FGM is being practiced in Mumbai amongst Dawoodi
Bohra community, a Shia sub sect of Islam, where untrained midwives scare the
minds and bodies of young children through this practice. The practise of 'Khatna,'
as it is known among the Bohra community, or FGM, is still practised lawlessly
by the Bohra community today.
One such tradition, which is not mentioned in the holy texts, has also affected
the Bohra girls. Those who do so uncritically fail to see the contradiction
between the regressive practise and the otherwise progressive community.
Pakistan, Yemen, East Africa, and dispersed areas of America and Australia [vi]
are home to the Bohra population. Due to legal steps made against the practise
in Australia and the United States, India is unfortunately becoming a centre for
FGM. India, on the other hand, continues to ignore the existence of this
tradition. For example, in 2017, the WCD Ministry, led by Ms. Maneka Gandhi,
said that there was no meaningful data to support the presence of FGM. As a
result, there are no laws against FGM.
Sections 319 to 326 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and Section 3 of the
Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 remain in effect.
Furthermore, in terms of precedents, it has been established in the past that
"penetration" in the context of sexual offences does not always have to signify
complete penetration. In Explanation 1 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code,
the term 'vagina' includes labia majora. Section 3 of the POCSO Act, read with
Explanation 1 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, can embrace FGM. Despite
this, the ritual persists unabated and uncontrolled.
Furthermore, Article 15 of the Indian Constitution guarantees that people are
protected from discrimination based on their gender, caste, race, place of
birth, or religion. FGM is a violation of this Article because it encourages
institutional discrimination against girls and women of a specific sect.
Senior barrister Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented the Dawoodi Bohra Women
for Religious Freedom in a recent plea to ban FGM, contended that the practise
is a vital component of the religion and is protected under Articles 25 and 26
of the Constitution of India 1950. The Supreme Court, however, comprised of a
constitutional bench including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar
and Justice DY Chandrachud, held that "It is violative of Article 21 of the
Constitution as it puts the female child to the trauma of female genital
Is Criminalisation of Female Genital Mutilation a Solution?
Women have been victims of a diverse range of unfair treatment and oppression
for ages, throughout cultures and countries, which is perpetuated under the
pretext of tradition, social standards, and eventually faith. FGM is an
irreversible form of brutality perpetrated on young, impressionable minds and
bodies. FGM has psychological and physical consequences that endure a lifetime.
This practise is essentially invalid because it robs a human being of his or her
right to personal integrity. A barbaric practise is imposed on young females as
early as one, putting them victims to such abuse.
Women who have been subjected to this kind of abuse have had problems with their
sexual and reproductive health. Women suffer long-term physical problems as a
result of this damage. Among the various health concerns are chronic genital
infections, chronic reproductive system infections, urinary tract infections,
vaginal issues, menstruation problems, HIV, delivery complications, Obstetric
Fistula, and perinatal hazards.
The emotional stress brought on by this unbearable pain is far more serious.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety
disorders, and phobias have all been linked to this technique. And this trauma
affects them for the rest of their life, making them unhappy. FGM is immoral and
unethical, and it should be made illegal. It must come to an end before more
children are sacrificed to this heinous and barbaric behaviour disguised as
Legal Actions Taken Around The Globe
As previously stated, FGM/C occurs on various continents and is not limited to
Africa. Although, different countries are enacting appropriate legislation to
address this international issue. While many countries may not have particular
laws against this practise, the penalties may apply in the same situation. For
example, while India does not have specific legislation prohibiting or banning
the practise of FGM, it is recognised as a criminal offence and child abuse,
with perpetrators facing up to seven years in prison.
While many African countries still lack legislation to regulate this practise,
some have established specific legislation to outlaw FGM. Cameroon, Congo, and
Guinea Bissau are some of the African countries that do not have explicit
legislation dealing with FGM, yet punitive measures apply. This technique has
recently been outlawed in Australia, the United States, and Sudan.
To talk about countries' legal positions on FGM/C, Kenya has made it a crime by
passing the Prohibition of FGM Act, 2011, which makes it a crime punishable by
up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $2000 USD. The practise of FGM/C
has been steadily declining since these laws were enacted in 2011. Kenya, on the
other hand, has been unable to stop this practise from spreading across borders.
Even though the law outlaws cross-border FGM, Kenyan authorities are unable to
assure that this 'culture' is completely eradicated.
Even though FGM is illegal in countries like Mauritania and Liberia, the
consequences are limited to abusers of victims under the age of 18, rendering
the law ineffective. Furthermore, no explicit laws or penalties exist for these
offences. The severity of the penalties is determined on a case-by-case basis.
These are few instances of legal positions on FGM from around the world.
Moving on, FGM/C is a violation of human rights as defined by the UDHR's
numerous clauses. The right to health, the right to be free of violence, the
right to life and physical integrity, and the right to be free of cruel,
inhumane, and humiliating treatment have all been violated.
Gender-Based Discrimination Is Prohibited By International Covenants Such As:
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),
- Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
All countries that have signed these accords must
ensure that they adhere to the treaty's objections and seek to eliminate such
Gender inequality and discrimination against females has been there since ages
in the world. It could be in the form of inequal opportunities provided to them
as compared to men or depriving them of certain rights in other. However, Female
Genital Mutilation is one of the most horrible practices meted out on the
females in various community in our society.
The main reason for the same is the discrimination between the male and female
members of the society. Certain religion such as Islamism and Christianity has
conformed to this practice in the name of protecting the sexual 'purity of the
girls'. The practice has no health benefits on the body of the women and is one
of the most painful experiences that they go through.
Reports such as that of WHO and others have shown that now also a large number
of women go through this procedure in various areas where the elder
unprofessional female members conduct the procedure. In India, the tradition
still prevails in Bohra community of Mumbai and there are no specific laws
There are no specific laws banning the practice but countries like India and
other African countries have made it a criminal offence against children with
different punishments. Other countries like Kenya have passed legislations
banning the same. Thus, FGM is a brutality against human kind which exists in
the name of tradition forcing women to undergo a dangerous procedure which could
cause them their life and deprive them of their basic human rights.
- Verma, A. (2020, September 17). Female genital mutilation/ cutting - the
normalisation of brutality under the garb of tradition. iPleaders.
- Female genital mutilation. (2023, January 31). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation
- UNICEF. (n.d.). https://www.unicef.org/protection/female-genital-mutilation
- Female genital mutilation. (2023b, January 31).
- Sumanti Sen, 4.1 Million Girls At Risk Of Female Genital Mutilation, A
Practice That Scars Women For Life, The Logical Indian, (Feb 7 2020 4:21 PM)
- Harinder Baweja, India's Dark Secret, The Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/static/fgm-indias-dark-secret/
- Guide to Eliminating the FGM Practice in India, Lawyers Collective,
- Sunita Arora v. Union of India
- Female Genital Mutilation Violates Constitutional Rights: Supreme Court,
NDTV, (July 31, 2018 07:26 am) https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/female-genital-mutilation-violative-of-constitutional-rights-supreme-court-1892433
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
- Article 1, 2, 5(a) Convention on the Elimination of all forms of
Discrimination against Women, 1979
- Article 3 and 24, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,
- Article 2, 3 and 26, International Convention on Civil and Political
- Article 2 and 3, International Convention on Economic, Social and
Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation: Prevalence in India and Need For Appropriate Laws
An Overview On Female Genital Mutilation: Looking Into The Bohra Community
Why India Must Take A Stand Against FGM