Monday, 19 November 2018

Female genital mutilation a crime under POCSO: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was hearing PILs filed by an advocate and two by Bohra women, demanding a law against female circumcision on the ground that it violated child rights of Bohra Muslim girls.

Expressing concern against the practice of female genital mutilation prevalent among Bohra Muslim community, the Supreme Court on Monday said that it violates privacy and compromises with bodily integrity.

“Our genitals are as private as any other body. Why anybody should be allowed to touch the genital of a human being? Why bodily integrity should be violated and compromised?” asked justice D Y Chandrachud, a member of the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The bench also observed that the act would be a crime under POCSO — the special law that protects minors from sexual assaults.

Popularly known as ‘khatna’, female genital mutilation involves cutting off the clitoral head, which Bohras believe makes women lead a life of infidelity. It’s generally done at a young age by midwives in unhygienic conditions.

The court was hearing PILs filed by an advocate and two by Bohra women, demanding a law against female circumcision on the ground that it violated child rights of Bohra Muslim girls. The petition said the circumcision causes pain during menstruation and sexual intercourse, loss of libido and even pain during urination.

Attorney general K K Venugopal, on behalf of the Centre, supported the demand and cited the World Health Organization (WHO) report to point how genital mutilation affected the health of the women.

He agreed with the bench’s view that it is a crime.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi opposed the PILs on behalf of a trust belonging to Bohra women. He said female circumcision is not the same as female genital mutilation and argued that the practice is part of the essentiality of the Dawoodi Bohra religion since centuries and the same would be protected under Article 25 and 26, right to practice and propagate religion.

Singhvi said genital mutilation was practiced among Bohra Muslim men too and suggested the petitions be referred to a constitution bench for a larger debate.

Venugopal rebutted Singhvi, saying an essential religious practice cannot be allowed if it affects public morality and health. He read out the same WHO report to justify male circumcision.

“The report says it has positive health impacts and reduces infection in men,” the AG said, but added that female genital mutilation is a crime in America, Australia, UK and France.

At this, CJI Misra said: “These petitions have been filed by women. And if they do not want it, then it cannot be imposed.”

The court allowed all impleadment applications and fixed July 16 for a further hearing.

According to World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation often leads to repeated infections, cysts, infertility, childbirth complications requiring repeated surgeries.

The UN General Assembly had in 2012 adopted a unanimous resolution on elimination of this practice. The National Commission for Women too supported ban on the practice.

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