Why focus on ‘non-issues’ like FGM? Group asks UN committee

Cedaw had earlier this week urged Putrajaya to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, and criticised the government for allowing the practice. — AFP pic
Cedaw had earlier this week urged Putrajaya to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, and criticised the government for allowing the practice. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 ― Local NGOs have criticised a United Nations (UN) committee for focusing on “non-issues” like female genital mutilation (FGM) and brushing off other matters like a ban on tudungs by hotels.

In a statement, the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (Macsa) said that the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) committee had been misled into believing that FGM was prevalent in the country.

It said that FGM was a “non-issue” and said the dialogue with Malaysian delegation had taken a “simplistic approach” on the unilateral child conversion, while brushing aside the “tudung ban” by hotels which was described as “an appalling form of discrimination”.

“What is currently being practised is a form of female circumcision which has been proven by health data monitoring and clinical studies to have no negative medical complications,” the statement said.

Cedaw had earlier this week urged Putrajaya to eliminate the practice of FGM, and criticised the government for allowing the practice, even when it is no longer considered to be in line with Islamic teachings.

“Macsa condemns all portrayals given at the review session of any impropriety of the practice in Malaysia especially the remarks that call to undermine the fatwa passed by the Fatwa Committee of the Malaysian National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs in 2009,” the statement added.

Female circumcision is considered as one form of FGM by the UN World Health Organisation.

In Malaysia, the most prevalent form of FGM among Muslims is Type I, where midwives or doctors remove the clitoral hood of women, usually when they are still infants or children.

Some practise Type IV, a ritual form which included pricking or nicking of the genitals.

Macsa insisted the two were “hugely different” and that “raising concerns over FGM to undermine the fatwa is disingenuous and unfair”.

“So much attention has been given to the issue of female circumcision in terms of its medical harms and benefits, that we strongly feel more pressing issues are being marginalized.

“The increasing prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality in our country, which has contributed significantly to the spread of HIV infections,” it said.

On the issue of unilateral conversion, Macsa said the proposed amendment to section 88A to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, to ban unilateral conversion of children by one parent represented discrimination against converts.

“This is because, to require a father or mother to obtain the consent of the other in cases where the parents are already in the midst of a divorce proceeding — and therefore are no longer on good terms — would almost certainly be impossible.

“Such a requirement would therefore amount to stripping away the fundamental right of the father or the mother to determine the upbringing of the child.”

The NGOs also said they were “alarmed” that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) had sided and supported the judiciary's recent ruling in the Indira Gandhi case.

Indira had been involved in a long running legal battle against her Muslim-convert ex-husband who unilaterally converted their three children, a decision later overturned by the Federal Court on January 30.

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