CAIRO — Egypt’s parliament on Wednesday toughened penalties for female genital mutilation, adopting amendments that punish perpetrators with up to 15 years in prison if a child dies and up to seven years for performing the procedure.

The centuries-old practice, misguidedly believed to control women’s sexuality, was criminalized in Egypt in 2008. But it remains widespread in the country, where about 90 percent of women have undergone some form of the forced procedure. Social taboos have prevented it from being discussed publicly, especially in rural Egypt.

Wednesday’s vote came four days after Cabinet sent the proposed amendments to parliament. The state MENA news agency quoted lawmaker Ahmed el-Sherif as saying the penalties are meant as “deterrence.”

The adopted amendments redefine FGM from a misdemeanor, where offenders typically receive up to two years in prison, to a felony, which incurs tougher sentences and punishments.

“This is very important for future generations,” said Vivian Fouad, the head of a Health Ministry’s program to combat female genital mutilation. She hailed the vote as a step in the right direction but said it will take years for the change to take into effect.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, said the group congratulates Egyptian lawmakers on passing the amendments.

“This is a legal precedent in Egypt, which will establish it as a model for African countries to follow the same path,” she added. Equality Now is an international organization promoting the rights of women and girls.

Abu-Dayyeh, however, pointed to a flaw in the amendments, which could apparently still allow doctors to approve the procedure. According to el-Sherif, the amendments ban “any cuts of the external female genital organs unless permitted by a specialized doctor.”

“This … could give families leeway to still circumcise their daughters,” she said.

In one of the most recent incidents, a 17-year-old girl died of a suspected stroke under anesthesia while undergoing female circumcision in Suez in May.

In July, the local Egyptian dailies reported another death, of a 13-year-old girl in Qena. She died from a suspected overdose in anesthetics while she was undergoing the procedure.

The U.N. children’s agency says at least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries have undergone the procedure, with half of them in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

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