The council of ministers approved the new law on 22 April, but it still needs to be passed by members of the sovereign council, which was created following the ousting of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.
Sudan has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world. According to the UN, 87% of Sudanese women have undergone the practice. Girls are usually cut between the ages of five and 14.
However, because the practice is entrenched in Sudanese culture, activists expect it will take a long time to be eradicated entirely. “There is so much work to be done. This is a start, a good start,” said Fatma Naib, communication officer of the UN children’s agency, Unicef, in Sudan.
The UN estimates that 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in 31 countries – 27 of which are in Africa. However, a report published in March said the number could be much higher as the practice is carried out in more than 90 countries, many of which do not collect data.
“The law will help protect girls from this barbaric practice and enable them to live in dignity,” said Salma Ismail, a spokeswoman in Khartoum for the United Nations Children’s Fund. “And it will help mothers who didn’t want to cut their girls, but felt they had no choice, to say ‘no.’”
“This is not just about legal reforms,” Ms. Ismail said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that society will accept this.”
In Egypt, for instance, genital cutting was banned in 2008 and the law amended in 2016 to criminalize doctors and parents who facilitate the practice, with prison sentences of up to seven years for performing the operation and up to 15 if it results in disability or death.
One such program among the Maasai in Kenya, where cutting has been outlawed since 2011, has reportedly helped saved at least 15,000 girls from the practice.
Most Sudanese women undergo what the World Health Organization calls Type III circumcision, an extreme form of the practice in which the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, are removed. The wound is then sewn closed in a practice known as reinfibulation that can cause cysts, lead to painful sex and prevent orgasm.