Women and girls in Iraq's Kurdistan region continue to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) because the local government is failing to enforce a law banning the practice, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The provision against FGM was part of a 2011 landmark law - the Family Violence Law - to tackle violence against women in the autonomous region in northern Iraq.
Kurdistan's government has launched awareness campaigns and training courses for police and judges on the part of the law addressing domestic violence against women but has neglected to inform and enforce the articles banning FGM, the New York-based group said.
“The (Kurdistan) parliament took a huge step forward when it passed the Family Violence Law,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW said in a statement.
“Authorities now need to begin the difficult process of putting a comprehensive plan in place to implement the law, including informing the public, police, and health professionals about the ban on FGM.”
Some villagers in the region told the rights group they would no longer have the procedure performed on their daughters, as a result of awareness campaigns carried out by charities visiting their villages. They said they had not seen any government campaigns on the issue.
“Okay, so there's a law now, so people don't talk about it as much now, but if people in my village or another village want to have it done to their girls, they can easily still do it secretly,” a woman from Rania, a region in south Kurdistan, told HRW.
Police officers interviewed by the rights group said they had not received any guidance or explanation of the law from their superiors.
A fatwa - a religious edict - issued in 2010 by the region's highest Muslim authority stated that female genital cutting predated Islam and was not a religious obligation. Despite this, some religious leaders pressured Kurdistan's President Massoud Barzani to not sign the bill into law.
Barzani allowed the law to come into effect without signing it, sending out the message that the practice would be tolerated, HRW said.
“We don't have a problem passing laws here in the Kurdistan Regional Government, but implementation is another matter entirely, especially when the law is controversial like this one,” Kwestan Abdullah, a member of the parliamentary Women's Affairs Committee, told HRW.
Before the Family Violence Law came into effect, at least 40 percent of women and girls in Kurdistan had undergone FGM, with the prevalence rate reaching 80 percent in one area. The practice remains prevalent in several areas, HRW said.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch published a report warning about the widespread practice and urging authorities to take steps to end it