Joint Statement: Roundtable on FGM/Khafz in India
The participants of the event, ‘Eliminating Harmful Practices, Meeting SDG Commitments: Roundtable on FGM/Khafz in India’, jointly issue this Declaration. The event was also attended by representatives from United Nations agencies, who have provided their input and solidarity to this statement.
FGM/Khafz is a violation of the human rights of women and girls, under both international law and the Indian constitution, including the right to bodily integrity. It has no health benefits, and in fact, often has both short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences. Eliminating FGM/Khafz in India requires concerted effort and a comprehensive and collaborative approach among government, civil society, survivors, communities, and international actors.
Significant progress has been made recently in bringing the issue of FGM/Khafz to public attention in India. The Indian Medical Association has issued a statement opposing FGM/Khafz and opposed the involvement of physicians in the practice. The Minister for Women and Child Development, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi has publicly stated that FGM/Khafz is a crime under existing laws, and has asked the religious head of the Bohra community to take measures to put an end to the practice. In an ongoing case at the Supreme Court, the judges on the bench have made remarks stating that FGM/Khafz prima facie appears to be a violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution, and the bodily integrity of the child. The Court also notes that there seems to be no scientific or medical basis for the practice of FGM/Khafz, which is likely to cause a significant amount of trauma, pain, and bleeding.
However, we have a long way to go in the struggle to end FGM/Khafz. Immediate action needs to be taken to tackle this pressing issue and ensure that India fulfills its commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Note on terminology: There are many terms and acronyms, including female genital mutilation (FGM); female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision, Khatna, and Khafz that refer to practices which involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The terminology used in this statement “FGM/Khafz” is intended to be inclusive of the various acronyms and terms referencing the practice.
The recommendations for tackling FGM/Khafz which emerged from and were agreed on at the event - “Eliminating Harmful Practices, Meeting SDG Commitments - Roundtable on FGM/Khafz in India” are set out below:
1. Data Collection: Data on the prevalence of FGM/Khafz in India, including the girls at risk and the women and girls who have already undergone the procedure, must be officially collected by the Indian government, including the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) both at the national level, and in certain States including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, and Kerala. In particular, national-level official statistics estimating the prevalence of FGM/Khafz across the country is required.
2. Resources: Increased recognition among donor organizations and international agencies that FGM/Khafz is a global issue, and occurs within India; and concerted action, including increased donor support to research studies, training of healthcare providers, grassroots activists, and civil society efforts to end FGM/Khafz within India. The Government of India and the concerned State Governments should also dedicate funds for the specific purpose of taking prevention, awareness-raising, and education measures towards ending FGM/Khafz.
3. Definition: The definition of FGM (which includes Khafz) given by the World Health Organization (WHO) should be adopted in India, including in any law that addresses or is passed to address this issue. The WHO defines FGM as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. The WHO definition is broad enough to include Khafz as practiced by some communities in India as part of FGM.
4. Law: The Indian government should pass a separate law that bans FGM/Khafz in India, makes it a criminal offense for anyone who performs the procedure of FGM/Khafz, or aids, propagates, abets, or procures any person to carry FGM/Khafz. The law should recognize FGM/Khafz as a human rights violation, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. It should prioritize prevention measures to protect girls and women from FGM/Khafz based on an integrated framework addressing gender-based discrimination.
5. Prosecution under existing law: Until a separate law is passed on FGM/Khafz, proactive measures should be taken to prosecute instances of FGM/Khafz as criminal offenses of hurt, and grievous hurt, under sections 319 to 325 of the Indian Penal Code. The central government must issue appropriate orders/directives/guidelines to the police in all States, which provide education and information to law enforcement officials on the existence and effects of FGM/Khafz in India, the applicability of existing criminal laws, and the need to prosecute these offenses. However, existing laws fail to recognize FGM/Khafz as a systematic act of violence imposed as a norm, which is why a stand-alone law dealing with this issue is necessary.
6. Propagation: Propagation or glorification of this practice should also be recognized as a crime.
7. Reporting: Frontline professionals including teachers, doctors, and social workers must be educated on the issue and encouraged to report to the police if any girl is under threat of FGM/Khafz or if it has been performed on any girl or woman.
8. Prevention and Awareness Generation: Clear guidelines should be issued by the central and relevant state governments which should prioritize prevention measures to protect women and girls from FGM/Khafz, including by taking action to identify girls at risk, and implementing an awareness generation campaign regarding the health effects and legal status of the practice of FGM/Khafz under Indian law. Adequate steps should be taken by the State to include religious and community leaders towards prevention and awareness generation.
9. Education: Education and information on sexuality and sexual health, and the health and legal implications of FGM/Khafz particularly targeted at women and girls from at-risk communities should be done.
10. Health Professionals: The government should immediately issue guidelines and advisories to all health professionals, noting that FGM/Khafz is a crime under existing laws, and direct them not to carry out the procedure.
11. Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The central and relevant state governments should include the issue of FGM/Khafz under SDG target 5.3 in its Voluntary National Reports (VNR) to the United Nations, and must include a plan to eliminate FGM/Khafz in its mapping and strategies for achieving the SDGs.
Health Care Sector
12. Zero Tolerance Policy: The Medical Council of India and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) must issue zero-tolerance policies prohibiting medical professionals from carrying out FGM/Khafz, and classifying the performance of FGM/Khafz as a form of misconduct that would result in disciplinary proceedings. The Medical Council of India and the IMA should take steps to publicize these statements and policies, and ensure that healthcare professionals are aware of their responsibilities in relation to FGM/Khafz.
13. Building Competency and Awareness: Build competency and awareness of healthcare professionals regarding FGM/Khafz and its health effects, and provide education and training for students and practitioners in health professions about FGM/Khafz and the provision of psychological and medical services to women and girls who have undergone FGM/Khafz.
14. Research: Invest in research studies on the psychological, sexual, and health impacts of Type 1/Type 4 FGM/Khafz as defined by the UN World Health Organization, that is performed in India.
15. Jamaat resolutions: As done in Australia, the United States of America, the UK, Canada, and other countries around the world, Jamaat resolutions must be passed all over India asking members of the Bohra community to refrain from practicing FGM/Khafz, and follow the laws of the land wherein FGM/Khafz is illegal under existing laws. Similar resolutions should be passed by other community leaders practicing FGM/Khafz.
We Speak Out
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)
The Alternate Space
Dr. Syeda Hameed
- Lawyers Collective