|Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Julien Harneis.|
Draft amendments to Montenegro’s criminal code prepared by the Justice Ministry, which BIRN has seen, will make female genital mutilation a criminal offence in the country for the first time.
Montenegro joins a number of European nations which have introduced harsh penalties for female genital mutilation, sometimes called female circumcision or female genital cutting.
The new law for the first time introduces penalties for forced sterilisation, which is also considered a severe violation of women’s rights. The offence will be punished with up to five years in prison.
The new penalties will be imposed as Montenegro prepares to comply with the Istanbul Convention, an international legal mechanism for the protection of women’s rights, which the country ratified in 2016.
Female genital mutilation is characterised by the partial or total removal of a woman’s external genital organs when no medical reason for the procedure is indicated.
It can cause severe bleeding, pain, shock, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. It also significantly lowers the feelings of pleasure experienced during sex.
International women’s organisations have warned that in most countries in which the operations have been carried put, the majority of girls were mutilated before reaching their fifth birthday.
They argue that female genital mutilation is not just a ‘traditional custom’ but a severe violation of human rights.
A UNICEF report published in August 2016 said that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have suffered been subjected to the operation in 30 countries, mainly in Africa.
The UNICEF report, however, does not say that such operations have been carried out in any of the Balkan countries.
Maja Raicevic, the director of the Women Rights Centre, an NGO based in Podgorica, said that forms of violence such as female genital mutilation have not been registered in Montenegro so it may appear strange that it is listed in the draft amendments to the criminal code.
“However, current migration trends and a large number of refugees coming to Europe from African and Asian countries where this harmful tradition is still maintained may lead to the fact that this form of violence against women could be diverted to our country,” Raicevic said.
“It’s good that the new law anticipates that,” she added.
Raicevic explained that the new Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Family Violence – known as the Istanbul Convention – is the first legally binding international mechanism in Europe aimed at dealing with violence against women and domestic violence.
Montenegro is one of the first countries to have signed and ratified the convention, thus making a commitment to change its laws, introduce practical measures and provide resources for the effective prevention of violence against women and domestic violence.
“This means that our criminal code needs to recognise the nature of violence against women as gender-based violence and all forms of violence which include sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage and crimes committed in the name of so-called ‘honour’, such as female genital mutilation,” Raicevic said.