Female genital mutilation, forced marriages criminalized in Estonia

A legislative amendment that entered into force in Estonia last week criminalizes female genital mutilation and forced marriages.

Although these offenses are not widespread in Estonia, defining them as criminal offenses in law is necessary due to the globalizing world and increased migration, the Ministry of Justice said.

Female genital mutilation is practiced primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and to a lesser extent in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The practice, which constitutes a violation of human rights, undermines the health and privacy of girls and young women and may pose a risk to their lives. An act like this is now punishable in Estonia, just like other acts causing severe damage to one's health, the ministry said.

As acts of female genital mutilation and forced marriage are committed first and foremost with respect to minors, the statutes of limitation pertaining to these acts have also been changed. If such an act was committed with respect to a minor, the limitation period will be suspended until the victim reaches adulthood, after which they will have five or ten years to report the crime, depending on the severity thereof.

Forced marriage is punishable under the same provisions of the Penal Code as human trafficking. The law was also amended to make the purchasing of sexual services from a victim of human trafficking a punishable offense.

The amendments to the Penal Code and other laws that entered into effect on July 6 are connected with Estonia's accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women as well as domestic violence.

The convention was adopted in Istanbul on April 7, 2011. Estonia signed the convention three years later, on Dec. 2, 2014, and is expected to ratify it this December.

In order to accede to the convention, Estonia brought its laws into conformity with the requirements of the convention and, as the last major change, added new acts classified as a criminal offense to its penal code. As part of the same amendments, sexual harassment and stalking were also classified as criminal offenses in Estonia.

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