CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Thursday acquitted a doctor charged with committing female genital mutilation that led to a 13-year-old girl's death in a Nile Delta village, the country's first trial on charges of breaking the ban on the practice.
The verdict surprised activists against the practice, who had been hoping for a conviction and tough sentence to serve as a deterrent for doctors and families. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world and criminalized the practice in 2008, but it remains widespread.
The court in the Nile Delta Province of Dakahliya ruled that the doctor, Raslan Fadl, and the father of Sohair el-Batea, the girl who died, were not guilty on charges of breaking the ban on the practice, said Reda el-Danbouki, a lawyer involved in bringing the case to trial. The judge did not immediately explain the verdict.
The judge also dropped a charge of manslaughter because the family and the doctor had earlier agreed to reconcile, el-Danbouki said. The family was paid 60,000 pounds, or about $8,500, for reconciliation.
El-Danbouki said he is coordinating with rights groups to appeal the verdict.
Sohair's family initially filed a police report saying she died as a result of female genital mutilation, but changed their story after reconciling with the doctor, said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki. The case came to trial only after significant pressure from rights groups, he added.
Aboul Einein, another lawyer who followed the case, warned that the verdict could open door for any doctor to perform the banned procedure.
More than 90 percent of Egyptian women are estimated to have undergone the procedure, which in Egypt generally involves the cutting off of all or part of the clitoris and sometimes the labia. In a conservative society, it is believed to control a young woman's sexual appetite.
It is practiced in 29 countries, most in East and West Africa, but also in Iraq and Yemen. It is practiced among both Muslims and Christians. Rights groups see it as a way to control women's sexuality that causes physical and psychological damage.