Deterrent effect of anti-FGM laws

Several authors argue that while it is true that there have been few prosecutions of FGM under existing laws, this does not mean that the law doesn’t have a positive effect in terms of reducing the prevalence.

In Senegal for example, the law, passed in 1999 has resulted in few arrests or court cases but has had the effect of creating a formal framework for NGOs and national groups engaged in the eradication of the practice. As such it is seen as instrumental for a change in attitudes toward FGM as a social norm.

In Europe, studies also imply that knowledge of anti-FGM laws, and fear of legal consequences, has a deterring effect on migrant communities originating from highprevalence countries. (5)

More than a strictly legal tool, permitting arrest and prosecution, the mere existence of laws has a symbolic effect and is a tool for prevention. The law gives a strong message that FGM is not an acceptable practice and provides opportunity to explain its negative consequences.

What can be done?

In conclusion, growing criminalization of FGM can create an “enabling environment for change” but is not a guarantee to put a stop to the practice. Also, legal measures must focus on the well-being of affected girls and women and avoid stigmatization.

Specific consideration must also be given to ensuring:

  • ownership of laws and information to all members of society
  • support by trained professionals
  • allocation of adequate resources

Parallel to legal measures other strategies should be adopted, such as:

  • awareness-raising
  • training of professionals, including those in health-care
  • implementation of alternative rites of passage
  • partnerships with religious and community leaders
  • creating alternative livelihood for ex-circumcisers
  • engaging men and boys