DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's president advocated banning female genital mutilation, giving hope to human rights activists who are urging Gambia to adopt a law against the practice.
President Yahya Jammeh was quoted in local media Wednesday saying that he could not find any religious justification for female circumcision.
"For 21 years, I have been researching from the Quran and consulting religious leaders whether female circumcision is mentioned in the Quran, but I did not find it there," he said, according to an article in the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper.
Female genital mutilation is practiced in more than half of African countries. It entails the complete or partial removal of the external genitalia of women and girls for nonmedical reasons.
It causes lifelong physical and emotional harm and can result in life-threatening complications during childbirth, the UK-based charity 28 Too Many has said. In 2010, female genital mutilation was carried out on nearly 80 percent of Gambian women and girls aged 15 to 49, according to the group.
Jammeh came to power in a 1994 military coup and is often criticized for human rights abuses, including the torture of opponents and the persecution of gays and lesbians.
Activists described his remarks on female genital mutilation as a welcome surprise.
"This is long overdue, but a good move indeed," said Amie Bojang Sissoho of the nonprofit Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices.
She and other activists noted that Jammeh's words would mean little without the passage of a law banning the practice.
In March, Gambian lawmakers rejected a ban on female genital mutilation, claiming Gambians "were not ready," according to Jeffrey Smith of the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Justice and Human Rights Center.
"Let us hold off on popping the champagne until this 'ban' amounts to more than just rhetoric," Smith said in a post Wednesday on his organization's website.