Yemen will soon vote on the inclusive Child Rights Act in hopes to alleviate child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM.) According to the United Nations, more than half of Yemeni girls get married by just 18 years old, and these marriages are often synonymous with abuse, sexual violence and FGM.
FGM is still prolific in almost 30 countries, where most girls are mutilated before the age of 5. Countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia, where FGM victims hit the 20 million count, often rely on traditional practitioners to perform most of the procedures. Banned from Egypt in 2008, the procedure is still a not so taboo, yet illegal, “tradition”: more than 90 percent of women in the country have been subjected to FGM.
Labeled a human rights violation by the U.N., FGM has absolutely no health benefits for women. Procedures can cause heavy bleeding and problems urinating, and can eventually result in cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn death. The procedure, which removes and damages healthy and normal female genital tissue, poses a serious risk to the natural functions of women’s bodies. Yet FGM, like many other cultural traditions, is difficult to completely erase even by law. An act of patriarchal control, FGM works under the intent of controlling women’s bodies to ensure “virginity, purity and modesty.”
The Child Rights Act would work to eliminate mental, emotional and physical abuse and would ban child marriage and FGM. Establishing a minimum age of marriage at 18, the law would impose fines on guardians, marriage officials or any other persons aware of the transgression.
Yet FGM is not only common in Eastern countries: it happens here in the United States, too. An estimated 228,000 women in America are either at risk or have received the procedure, and this number is increasing. Sent to countries where the practice is still legal, many victims are beginning to speak out against the procedure, demanding more attention from the U.S. government. Subsequently, the 2014 U.S. Department of State Human Rights country reports include a mandatory question regarding FGM for the first time.
Yemen, which is set to vote on the Child Rights Act this coming month, has a long way to go before it gets passed. If approved by the prime minister and cabinet, the legislation would then go to a parliamentary vote. Ultimately, the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, would have final say regarding its passing. After an unsuccessful push to make 17 the legal age of marriage in Yemen in just 2009, human rights groups around the world are hoping the Yemeni government will act judiciously in passing this potentially life-saving legislation.
– Nick Magnanti