SOURCE: allAfrica

Gambian lawmakers voted 42 in favor and four against sending the FGM ban reversal bill to a parliamentary committee. Activists warn that the bill will harm Gambia's human rights record and roll back years of progress.

Gambian lawmakers voted on Monday to advance to the next parliamentary stage a bill to reverse the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), which has been in place since 2015.

Lawmakers voted 42 in favor and four against sending the bill to a parliamentary committee for at least three months for further scrutiny before it returns for a third reading.

What are the arguments for and against the ban? 

Lawmaker Almameh Gibba, who presented the repeal bill earlier this month, said during Monday's debate: "The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values."

But activists and human rights organizations say the suggested legislation reverses years of progress and risks damaging the country's human rights record.

aha Dukureh, an anti-FGM campaigner in Gambia, said she was confident the bill would be voted down but that activists like herself faced an uphill battle. Dukureh and others protested outside parliament during the debate.

The Gambia's FGM ban was adopted in 2015 under ex-president Yahya Jammeh, imposing fines and jail sentences for those who carry the act. Jammeh believed the practice was outdated and not required under Islam.

The law states that: "A person shall not engage in female circumcision. ... A person who engages in female circumcision commits an offense."

 Three women were fined last August for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls, becoming the first people convicted under the law.

The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council responded to that conviction by saying female circumcision was one of the virtues of Islam.

How has the ban impacted FGM in Gambia? 

UN data shows that the prevalence of FGM among girls in Gambia has fallen precipitously since its ban was enacted.

The World Health Organization says female circumcision has no health benefits and can lead to excessive bleeding, shock, psychological problems, and death.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a report released earlier this month that the number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide increased from 200 million eight years ago to 230 million now.

If Gambia repeals the ban on female genital mutilation, it will become the first nation around the world to roll back protections against cutting.

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