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INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 6TH FEBRUARY 2019

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ISSUE: FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION

WHY IN NEWS?

Every year, February 6 is observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As per the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, over 200 million girls alive today have suffered FGM in over 30 countries.

The economic costs of treating health complications arising out of FGM amount to roughly $1.4 billion for 2018 for 27 countries where FGM is performed. If the prevalence remains the same, the amount is expected to rise up to $2.3 billion by 2047.

In 2018, a study on FGM in India said that the practice was up to 75 per cent across the Bohra Muslim community. The study was conducted by three independent researchers.

What is FGM and where is it practised?

FGM is the name given to procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical or cultural reasons, and is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights and the health and integrity of girls and women.

WHO classifies four types of FGM: type 1 (partial or total removal of the clitoral glans); type 2 (partial or total removal of the external and visible parts of the clitoris and the inner folds of the vulva); type 3 (infibulation, or narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal), type 4 (picking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area).

Most girls and women who have undergone FGM live in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States, but it is also practised in some countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

FGM in India

According to the aforementioned study, the reasons for FGM referred to as “Khafd” in India include continuing an old traditional practice, adhering to religious edicts, controlling women’s sexuality and abiding by the rules stated by the religious clergy.

It also states that the issue first rose to prominence in India because of two international legal cases on FGM against practising Bohras in Australia and the US.

In 2018, a bench of then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud referred a petition seeking a ban on FGM among Dawoodi Bohra girls to a five-judge Constitution Bench. This PIL was filed byDelhi-based lawyer Sunita Tiwari, who sought a declaration that the practice amounts to a violation of a woman’s right to life and dignity.

The Dawoodi Bohra community, on the other hand, maintained that the practice should be allowed since the Constitution grants religious freedom under Article 25.

ISSUE: RAM TEMPLE TRUST

WHY IN NEWS?

On Wednesday (February 5), the Union Cabinet cleared the formation of a Trust for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in the Lok Sabha. The Trust, which is called the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra, will include 15 members, of which one will be a Dalit, as per Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

What is the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra?

One of the five suits before the court in the Babri Masjid case was in the name of the deity itself, Sri Ram Lalla Virajman, and of the birthplace, Asthan Shri Ram Janmabhoomi. This suit was founded on the claim that the law recognises both the idol and the birthplace as juridical entities. The court did not accept the Janmasthan as a juridical entity.

It awarded the title of the land to Ram Lalla, to be held by the Trust that the Court said should be set up within three months. This Trust is the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra.

What did the Supreme Court say about the Trust?

When the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on November 9, 2019, it directed the Centre to formulate within three months a scheme to set up a “Trust with a Board of Trustees or any other appropriate body” under The Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, with powers “including the construction of a temple”.

The court used its powers under Article 142 to direct that “appropriate representation may be given in the Trust… to the Nirmohi Akhara”.

The Court also said that the scheme to be framed by the Centre should make “necessary provisions” about the functioning of the Trust or the body, including on matters relating to its management, the powers of the trustees “including the construction of a temple and all necessary, incidental and supplemental matters”.

Furthermore, this Trust will get the possession of the inner and outer courtyards along with the rest of the acquired land, which will be managed and developed by the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra.

ISSUE:  AMENDMENTS TO THE MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY ACT

WHY IN NEWS?

The Union Cabinet’s approval of the amended Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Bill 2020 was reported on January 29.

The proposed amendments will definitely reduce the burden on the judiciary, especially given the plethora of cases seeking permission for abortion beyond the prescribed duration of 20 weeks. The court cases are broadly of two types. The first are pregnancies that extend beyond 20 weeks of gestation as a result of rape, incest or of minor women. The new Act rightly addresses these by extending prescribed period abortion to 24 weeks. However, such cases form a minuscule proportion of the total number. For such cases, even the 24-week cap can be done away with, provided the abortions can be safely done.

Abortion (unsafe) accounts for almost 10 per cent of maternal deaths in India. The amended Act doesn’t have any new substantial provisions to avoid unsafe abortions.

The second group of cases are of pregnancies that become unwanted after congenital foetal anomalies are found upon testing. These foetal anomalies would involve some which are compatible with life and some which are incompatible with life. With advancements in prenatal foetal screening/diagnostic technologies, more such cases are knocking at the doors of courts.

Abortion beyond 12 weeks carries serious health risks and requires the expert opinion of two registered medical practitioners under the current Act. This requirement has been delayed till 20 weeks, though the physiology of pregnancy and risks associated with procedures for second trimester abortions haven’t changed significantly. Without the strengthening of public services, easing second trimester abortions between 12-20 weeks opens the possibilities of more complications and endangers life of the woman.

With congenital anomalies as a ground for abortion, the eugenic mindset of having socially desirable children could push more women into risky late abortions. The approach of medical boards advising courts in cases of late abortions under this Act will be critical to balancing women’s right to choose with risk to the woman and the motives for abortion. The rules framed under the Act must address this in no uncertain terms.

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