International and regional legal frameworks on FGM

International legal instruments on FGM

Female Genital Mutilation is internationally recognized as a practice that violates human rights. A number of international conventions and declarations form the legal framework for the protection and promotion of women and girls’ human rights and are relevant to FGM:

  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
  • the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
 According to the UN Human Rights Committee, “FGM/C constitutes cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment that violates the general prohibition against torture”. (28 Too Many, 2018b)

Thus, national governments have international legal obligations to adopt: “effective and appropriate measures to abolish harmful traditional practices affecting the health of children, particularly girls, including early marriage and FGM, as well as preventing third parties, including medical providers, from coercing women to undergo traditional
practices, such as FGM/C.” (28 Too Many, 2018a)

Moreover, fear of FGM in one’s country of origin is grounds for international protection (asylum) under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.

Regional legal instruments on FGM


There are specific legal obligations for the African continent, including:

  • the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (art 18)
  • the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (art 21)
  • the Maputo Protocol (Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, art 5).

The Maputo protocol (The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa) obliges States to implement legislation against FGM, as well as other measures such as public awareness of FGM in all sectors of society through programs of information, informal or formal education and sensitization, provision of necessary support to survivors (including health services, legal and judicial support, psychological and emotional advice as well as professional trainings), and protection of women who are at risk (art.5, Maputo)

“Ratifying the Protocol obliges the State to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights. Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol is quite clear that States have an obligation to prohibit ‘through legislative measures backed by sanctions, all forms of FGM, scarification, medicalisation and para-medicalisation of FGM and all other practices in order to eliminate them’.” 

In 2019, 15 out of 55 African Union Member States had not signed and ratified the the Maputo Protocol, including several countries where FGM is prevalent such as Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. – This means that these countries were not legally bound by the provisions in protocol. 
The deadline set for ratifying the Maputo Protocol was 2020. Progress has been made since 2019. However, according to Equality Now, in 2021, 13 countries are yet to ratify it including three that have neither signed nor ratified it. (Equality now, website, unknown date) Most countries who have signed/ratified also do not report on their implementation, making it difficult to track progress. (African Union, 2020)


In the European region, FGM is considered a violation to several treaties and conventions:

  • the European Convention on Human Rights
  • the EU Directive on Victims’ Rights
  • the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence)

The Istanbul Convention recognized the existence of FGM in Europe and the need to systematically address the practice and its prevention. One of the “four Ps” of the Convention is prosecution, meaning to prosecute offenders that subject (or try to subject) a woman or girl to FGM. 

Thus, all States that commit to the international human rights instruments cited above are obliged to prevent FGM and protect women and girls from the practice. One of the key duties is to put in place legislative measures to prohibit FGM. However, as most of them are examples of “Soft law” they are not legally binding.

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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