NAIROBI, 17 March 2021 – The Kenya High Court on Wednesday refused to decriminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) for consenting adults.
The tree justices said FGM, unlike male circumcision, does not have health benefits.
FGM, the justices said, can, in some cases, lead to death and has been shown to reduce the wellbeing of the women or girls undergoing it.
The case was brought in response to a 2017 petition by a doctor who argued that banning the practice was unconstitutional as women had the right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Dr Tatu Kamau argued that women in communities that practice female circumcision – named FGM for its adverse effects – have no choice but to submit to it.
She said adult women who want it performed on them, cannot do so safely.
“We are not persuaded that one can choose to undergo a harmful practice. From the medical and anecdotal evidence presented by the respondents, we find that limiting this right is reasonable in an open and democratic society based on the dignity of women,” Justices Lydia Achode, Kanyi Kimono, and Margaret Muigai, said in their ruling.
“Today is a great day for the women who live in these communities that practice female genital mutilation,” said lawyer Ken Mbaabu, who sits on the board of Samburu Girls Foundation, an NGO that combats FGM and early marriages.
Passed in 2011, Kenya’s Female Genital Mutilation Act outlaws the practice, with anyone found guilty of engaging in it, likely to be sentenced to at least three years in jail or a fine of $1,800.
Some 200 million girls and women worldwide are victims of FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia.
One-in-five women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 in Kenya have undergone the procedure, according to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.
Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, pledged to end FGM in the country by 2022, but rights groups have said the timeline is not realistic given the work of sensitization still needed.
Health experts have found that FGM can affect sexual intercourse and lead to complications in childbirth for some women.
Young girls and women have been infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV on account of the communal use and non-sterilization of the tools used.
In the worst case scenarios, FGM can lead to excessive bleeding and death for the victims.