Gambian lawmakers debate bill lifting ban on female genital mutilation

Gambian lawmakers on Monday debated a highly controversial bill seeking to lift the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in force since 2015, before suspending the vote for at least three months.

The issue has divided the tiny West African nation for months, with hundreds gathering to protest outside parliament.

Pro-FGM campaigners outnumbered those calling for the ban to remain in place, according to AFP journalists.

"The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values," Almameh Gibba, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, said during the debate.

"The use of a ban on female circumcision is direct violation of the citizens' rights to practise their culture and religion," he added.

But activists and rights organisations say the legislation reverses years of progress and risks damaging the country's human rights record.

"There's the inherent risk that this is just the first step and it could lead to the rollback of other rights such as the law on child marriage... and not just in The Gambia but in the region as a whole," Divya Srinivasan, from women's rights NGO Equality Now, told AFP.

Lawmakers referred the bill to a parliamentary committee, where it will be scrutinised for at least three months before returning for debate.

Parliament later adopted the first law specifically banning the practice, which is now punishable by up to three years in prison.

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