Egypt’s lawmakers will soon vote to impose tougher penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM).

According to reports, the amended law would reclassify the practice as an offence, and jail sentences, which previously ranged  from three months to three years will increase to between five and seven years, and up to 15 years if the victim dies.

Although the practice was criminalised in 2008, FGM remains widespread in Egypt, and it is also silently practiced in other African countries.

Somali women’s groups launch the first ever national campaign against FGM at a rally in Mogadishu Stadium on International Women’s Day, Monday, 08 March 2004. ANP/EPA/Stringer
Somali women’s groups launch the first ever national campaign against FGM at a rally in Mogadishu Stadium on International Women’s Day, Monday, 08 March 2004. ANP/EPA/Stringer

Recently, Manar Moussa, a 17-year-old Egyptian girl, died in hospital from complications after a botched FGM operation. The death of the young girl cause a public outrage, with calls for the government to take a tough stance on the illegal practice.

The social and cultural practice remains prevalent in Egypt, and it is seen by some as an important religious tradition, which is essential to ensure cleanliness and promoting chastity.

Read: Gambia parliament passes bill which bans female genital mutilation

According to a report released early this year by Unicef, FGM is more rampant across the world, affecting more girls and women, than previously thought. At least 200 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation in 30 countries and “more than half live in just three countries: Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia”.

Despite calls by activists for a systemic cultural shift to end FGM, the practice remains prevalent in parts of Africa. In August, a 19 year-old girl Fatmata Turay, from Makeni, Sierra Leone died after going through an initiation ceremony, which is part of rite of passage into the Bondo society.

At least 20 African countries have outlawed the practice, and rights campaigners have been calling for more countries to abolish FGM and other harmful practices.