Egyptian authorities have arrested four individuals in connection to the death of a 12-year-old girl who underwent a female genital mutilation (FGM) operation last week.
The horrific practice, which "includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," is illegal yet common in the country.
Its latest victim, Nada Hassan Abdel-Maqsoud, was taken to a retired doctor who performed the surgery on her in a private clinic located in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut. Her parents, uncle, and aunt accompanied her to the medical center where she later died of "surgery complications."
In a statement on the matter, the public prosecutor's office said the doctor tried to save the teen's life but failed to do so. They vowed to take "firm action" against anyone who carries out FGM procedures in Egypt.
The victim's parents, aunt, and the doctor who conducted the illegal operation are now set to face trial in the case. Her uncle has yet to be detained but could be indicted in the crime.
A forensic investigation conducted by local police revealed that the incision carried out on the young teen was performed without anesthesia. The 70-year-old physician who conducted the operation was also found to be unqualified as a surgeon.
Identified as Ali A. A., the physician told interrogators that no other clinic doctors or workers were involved in the incident. He added that the deceased girl's mother and aunt were present in the operation room throughout the procedure.
Egyptian activists say it's uncommon for parents and medical practitioners to be punished for the crime. In this case, however, public outrage over Abdel-Maksoud's death moved police into action.
Egypt has long been fighting the harmful practice
Those who are for FGM in the country believe that it "protects" a girl's purity because it can "diminish sexual pleasure."
The country outlawed it in 2008 and upgraded the procedure to a felony in 2016 following the case of a 17-year-old teen who bled to death after undergoing it.
Before this update to the law took effect, the practice was classified as a misdemeanor and carried a penalty of three months to a maximum of three years in prison. However, stricter laws aimed at curbing the phenomenon haven't stopped some parents from trying to find other ways to have it conducted. Some of them turn to doctors because they believe this makes FGM a "medical procedure."
Despite all measures taken by the government, Egypt continues to register one of the highest FGM rates in the world. According to a 2016 survey by UNICEF, "87 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49" have been genitally cut.
FGM is a global problem
Even though FGM is "primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East," it is also practiced in some Asian and Latin American countries and is considered a universal problem according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"It is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated," wrote WHO in a report.
It is also estimated that 3 million girls are at risk of FGM every year, with the majority being under 15 years of age.
People in countries where FGM is still common try to link it to religion, but the practice has nothing to do with any faith and predates both Christianity and Islam. It has also been denounced by religious leaders worldwide.