More women and girls have undergone female circumcision in Egypt than in any other country, according a report issued by 28 Too Many, a UK-based organization campaigning against the practice, which has been banned in Egypt since 2008.
The organization’s country profile on Egypt states that 87.2 percent of all women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been circumcised, though this varies geographically. In urban areas 77.4 percent of women have undergone the procedure, compared with 92.6 percent in rural areas.
Economic disparity also influences female circumcision rates, affecting 94.4 percent of women in low-income areas, and 69.8 percent of women in Egypt’s wealthier districts.
The organization attributes Egypt’s high rate of female circumcision to several factors, stating that religious beliefs and societal influences are the most significant. An estimated 48.7 percent of men and 43.1 percent of women believe that female circumcision helps curb incidents of adultery. The absence of adequate sex education in Egyptian schools and households also contributes to an ongoing misunderstanding of female circumcision, writes 28 Too Many.
The willingness of Egypt’s health workers to carry out the practice also contributes to its prevalence. Approximately 78.4 percent of procedures are carried out by health sector professionals, according to the report.
The death of the 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea during a procedure performed by doctor Raslan Fadl in 2013 has had a significant impact on the public perception of the practice.
In January 2015, an appeals court in Mansoura issued an unprecedented verdict, sentencing Fadl to two years in prison for wrongful death, and a further three months imprisonment for performing the illegal procedure. The court also sentenced the girl’s father to three months in prison.
However, in July 2016 the family struck a reconciliation agreement with Fadl, who was subsequently released, after serving only three months of his sentence.
The report notes that the past few years have seen a decrease in the female circumcision rate, along with a shift in perceptions, particularly following the January 25 revolution in 2011.
The number of women aged 0-17 who have undergone female circumcision declined from 69 percent to 55 percent between 2005 and 2014.
Despite recent improvements, the report also highlights Egypt’s leniency when enforcing penalties against those involved in carrying out the procedure, despite recent legislation combating the practice. It also states that the government’s campaign against civil society is hampering official efforts to end female circumcision.
In June 2008 Parliament moved to amend Article 242 of the Penal Code to criminalize female circumcision, which was subsequently endorsed by the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2013. In September 2016, Parliament approved an amendment making female circumcision a felony rather than a misdemeanor, also increasing prison sentences from two years to between five and 10 years.
In October 2016, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and six other non-governmental organizations issued a press release welcoming the amendment, writing that it includes “a precise definition of the crime of female genital cutting and extends the statute of limitations to 10 years.”
However, the joint statement also stressed that “enforcement mechanisms remain lacking and the amended provisions still allow doctors and medical institutions to evade punishment.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Egypt has the world’s highest rate of female circumcision. It has been amended to reflect that Egypt is the country with the most circumcised women in the world.