Egypt has announced that it is imposing a complete ban on female circumcision, also known as genital mutilation.
The announcement follows a public outcry after a young girl died during the operation.
A ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago but the practice continued to be allowed in exceptional circumstances.
A health ministry spokesman said no member of the medical profession would be allowed to perform the operation in public or private establishments.
Those who broke the law would be punished, the spokesman said.
The new ban cancels out a provision that allowed the operation to be performed by qualified doctors in exceptional cases only.
But the death of a 12-year-old girl in Upper Egypt a few days ago triggered an angry barrage of appeals from human rights groups to both the government and the medical profession to act swiftly and stamp out the practice.
The doctor who carried out the operation has been arrested.
Egypt’s first lady, Susanne Mubarak, has spoken out strongly against female circumcision, saying that it is a flagrant example of continued physical and psychological violence against children which must stop.
The country’s top religious authorities also expressed unequivocal support for the ban.
Recent studies have shown that some 90% of Egyptian women have been circumcised.
The practice is common among Muslim as well as Christian families in Egypt and other African countries, but is rare in the Arab world.
It is believed to be part of an ancient Egyptian rite of passage and is more common in rural areas.
Conservative families believe that circumcision is a way of protecting the girls’ chastity.
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