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Sudanese authorities have announced they will end child marriage and enforce the country’s ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), in a major step forward for the rights of women and girls.
Police officers were told on Wednesday they must inform local communities that FGM is illegal following new laws passed in July that make it punishable by up to three years in jail.
“Police officers will have a major responsibility to intervene and curb this crime against humanity,” said the director general of police, Ezzeldin El Sheikh, adding that religious leaders in the largely Muslim country would play a key role in ending the practice.
The move should go some way to allay concerns the practice was so deeply entrenched in society the law could not be enforced.
According to the UN, 87% of Sudanese women have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. Girls are typically cut between the ages of just five and 14.
The council of ministers also announced this week it is to end child marriage and adopt all articles of the African charter on the rights and welfare of the child, which came into force in 1999.
Previously Sudan had resisted moves to ban marriage before the age of 18, despite supporting UN human rights council resolutions to end child marriage.
About a third of girls in Sudan are married before they turn 18.
Niki Kandirikirira, Equality Now’s director of programmes, said: “The work [to end child marriage] now awaits the government to implement the law through programmes addressing social norms and through making it clearly punitive to breach the law.”
She added: “We welcome comments by police chief Lt Gen Ezzeldin El Sheikh in highlighting that FGM is now forbidden by law in Sudan and those involved can face arrest, and we hope that his words will translate into action by the police force.”
As well as FGM and child marriage, the government has ended prohibitions against religious conversion from Islam, permitted non-Muslims to drink alcohol and stipulated that women will no longer need permission from a male member of their family to travel with their children.
World leaders have pledged to eliminate FGM and end child marriage by 2030.