Egypt’s National Council for Women has asked imams to warn worshippers of the danger of female genital mutilation after a girl, 12, bled to death during the procedure.
Maya Morsi, chairwoman of the state agency, asked the minister of religious affairs to instruct imams to address the issue in their sermons and emphasise that the banned practice, believed to originate from pharaonic times, had nothing to do with Islam.
“What sin have those innocent and young girls committed so they can be killed for it?” Ms Morsi wrote in a letter to the minister that was made public on Monday.
Ms Morsi also called on state agencies, officials and civil society groups to work towards ending FGM, which “humiliates and slaughters women”.
The practice remains widespread despite being outlawed 12 years ago.
In 2016, parliament voted to increase the punishment for offenders to jail terms of between five and seven years, up from between three months and two years. The same amendment stipulates that anyone causing death or permanent injury through the procedure faces up to 15 years in prison.
The death of the girl in the southern province of Assiut last week has sparked a national outcry.
Her parents, her aunt and the retired doctor who performed the operation, Ali Abdel Fadeel, 70, were arrested last week. The parents and aunt have been released on bail but the doctor was remanded to two weeks’ police custody until the investigation is completed. He faces manslaughter charges.
Judicial officials said the doctor insisted he was performing cosmetic surgery on the girl, a claim that was refuted by an examination of her body.
Prosecutors said they intended to “bring to justice anyone who follows in the footsteps of the accused and repeat their horrendous crime”.
The government has stepped up awareness campaigns in response to the case, especially in rural areas, where FGM is far more prevalent.
Unicef says 68 per cent of girls in middle and southern Egypt are at risk of the practice. The UN agency for women and children says this figure has not changed since 2008.
The World Health Organisation says that up to 65 per cent of the daughters of parents with low or no education in Egypt are circumcised. The figure goes down to about 20 per cent when the parents have a university degree or other higher education.
The United Nations in Egypt strongly condemned the “tragic” death last week but commended Egypt for its progress in curbing the practice through legislation and awareness campaigns.
It also reiterated its full support for a state commission set up last year specifically to work towards ending FGM.