The Eritrean government has banned female genital mutilation (FGM), saying the practice was painful and put women at risk of life-threatening health problems.
A government proclamation published on Wednesday said it was illegal for anyone to subject a person to FGM or provide tools to anyone who intended to carry out the practice. Failing to inform authorities on intended plans to subject anyone to FGM also constituted an offence, according to the legal notice.
The government and civil society had in February expressed optimism that efforts to combat FGM were bearing fruit, saying the campaign against the practice had gained support in rural areas where it was most common.
"We do not have the statistics yet, but we have seen a positive response, with even village councils coming up with their own provisional laws with the people's consensus to discourage the practice," Dehab Suleiman, the head of information and research at the National Union of Eritrean Women, told IRIN.
Suleiman said FGM prevalence rates in Eritrea were estimated at 94 percent, but the practice was expected to decline in the near future because an increasing number of parents were choosing not to have their daughters subjected to FGM. We have seen a positive change
FGM involves the cutting and/or removal of the clitoris and other vaginal tissue, often under unsanitary conditions. It is practised in at least 28 countries globally. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that up to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of FGM.
It is practised extensively in Africa, and also in parts of the Middle East and among immigrant communities around the world. According to medical experts, it causes physical and psychological complications, as well as heightening the risk of HIV/AIDS when unsterilised instruments are used.
At least 16 African countries have banned the practice, and the Maputo Protocol, an African regional document that prohibits and condemns FGM, came into force in November 2005.