Video Producer/Editor: Shohini Bose
For the first time since India’s human rights records have been under the scanner at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, the diplomatic mission of Costa Rica on Thursday, 10 November, urged India to devise a national plan to address female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country.
This came during the 41st session of the UPR in Geneva, over the course of which (from 7 - 18 November) 14 States, including India are having their human rights records examined.
The recommendation made by (the diplomatic mission of Costa Rica seeks for India to legally adopt the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of FGM which includes “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
It also specifically seeks criminalisation of FGM in India and for the government to devise a national plan for its eradication.
“Adopt a legal definition from WHO on Female Genital Mutilation, criminalize it and establish a national plan to eradicate it,” the recommendation read.
'No Place for Female Genital Mutilation in 21st Century': WeSpeakOut
Meanwhile, WeSpeakOut, a not-for-profit, survivor-led organisation committed to ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting/Khafz (FGM) in India and worldwide, applauded the move by Costa Rica and urged the Indian government to acknowledge that FGM is practiced within its borders and proactively work towards eradicating it.
“WeSpeakOut participated in the UPR consultative pre-sessions and apprised other member nations about the prevalence of FGM in India. A silent and secret practice came to light when survivors like me (Masooma Ranalvi,founder) decided to publicly share our childhood trauma of being cut. There is no place for FGM/Khafz in the 21st Century," a statement by the organisation said.
''The Indian government can and should support action to end this practice by first recognising its prevalence and then developing a National level plan to tackle it. WeSpeakOut is committed to working within the community to educate and build awareness against the harms caused by this practice.
We are also encouraged by the fact that over 25 member states present at the UPR41 session recommended that India do more to protect women, girls, and children from all forms of violence, including gender-based violence and harmful practices,” it added.
Their recommendations for the government of India in August also included:
- Conduct research and collect data on the national prevalence of FGM in the country across all communities that are known to practice FGM
- Establish a national action plan to eradicate the harmful practice of FGM in all its forms across the country and within the Bohra community, including the dedication of resources to prevention and education aspects
Why the UPR Process Matters
As the UN Human Rights Council describes it - “The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States.
It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights.
The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe.” NGOs participate in the URP process by engaging with other UN member nations, apprising them of the situation on human rights in their respective countries during the pre-sessions.
In the fight to end FGM in India, the UPR process has become a critical point of advocacy.
The sessions have created a platform for activists and civil society organisations from India to directly converse with diplomatic missions from all UN member states and to urge them to hold the Indian government accountable to its international human rights commitments.
The recommendations made by each UN member state communicates to India how its commitments and actions to achieve them are being viewed and can form a powerful push towards changes in the relevant law.
Notably, one of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals explicitly calls for an end to FGM by 2030 under goal 5.3 on Gender Equality.
For reference, India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
India’s commitments to these frameworks and bodies necessitate that it urgently addresses FGM in the country and passes an Act outlawing it.
Where Does India Stand on FGM?
In India, practitioners usually perform Type I or Type IV FGM as defined by WHO. No official attempts have been made so far to collect data on the prevalence and nature of FGM practiced in India. There has been no move to introduce a law or policy to deal with the practice and achieve the goal to eliminate it, either.