Under UN review, Putrajaya defends female circumcision, insists no LGBT bias

Zurairi Ar
Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (left, light-coloured jacket) watches a livecast in Kuala Lumpur, of Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva November 8, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Nov 9 — The Malaysian delegate to its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday defended the practice of infant female circumcision as “a cultural obligation”.

Replying to recommendations from peers such as Sweden and Denmark, a representative from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry denied female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised here despite evidence pointing otherwise.

“Malaysia objects to any practices that are harmful to young female babies and children. Malaysia does not practise FGM, but the practice of female circumcision on babies is allowed as it is part of a cultural obligation,” said the representative.

“The type of circumcision practised is very mild and does not involve any cutting. The Health Ministry provides a guideline which specifies only accredited medical professionals are allowed to perform the procedure,” he added.

Female circumcision is considered a form of FGM by the UN World Health Organisation, but Muslim groups disagree with this.

In Malaysia, the most prevalent form of FGM among Muslims is Type I, where midwives or doctors remove the clitoral hood of women, usually when they are still infants or children.

Some practise Type IV, a ritual form that includes pricking or nicking of the genitals.

In February, representatives from Muslim-majority countries in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) committee had criticised Malaysia for allowing FGM even when it is no longer considered to be in line with Islamic teachings.

When the issue of discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was brought up, the same representative insisted that the government “upholds the rights and dignity of all persons in Malaysia in accordance to the law”.

However, he simply cited Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which states “there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender”.

Among countries who urged Malaysia to protect its sexual and gender minorities were Germany, Austria, Canada, Chile, Argentina and the United States.

Other recurring recommendations made to Malaysia included setting the minimum marriage age to 18, imposing a moratorium on the death penalty, ensuring rights for migrant workers and refugees, tackling human trafficking and ensuring freedom of religion for all.

The final report on the recommendations will be published on Monday, and the UPR Working Group will adopt the recommendations made to Malaysia by Tuesday.

Led by Foreign Affairs secretary-general Datuk Seri Ramlan Ibrahim, the Malaysian delegation included representatives from several ministries, the Attorney General’s Chambers, Jakim, the Orang Asli Development Department and the Sarawak state government.

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