International and European conventions
As a member of the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe, Portugal has ratified several international conventions against FGM, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2010/C 83/02). Portugal has also ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention, CETS No. 210).
Following Portugal’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention in August 2015, FGM is a specified crime under Law nº 83/2015 of the Portuguese Penal Code. According to Article 144 A on Female Genital Mutilation, the perpetrator of FGM may be sentenced to a prison term of two to 10 years. All preparatory acts related to FGM, namely sending or arranging the travel of a woman or girl abroad to be submitted to FGM, helping, incentivising or supporting the practice of FGM abroad or in national territory (e.g. by collecting money to pay for the procedure) is punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
Prior to 15 September 2015, Article 144 of the Portuguese Penal Code provided grounds for the prosecution of an act of FGM, referring to the crime of a serious offence against the physical integrity of an individual. Although the term FGM was not explicitly mentioned in the text of the law, FGM could be addressed as a form of “depriving or affecting someone’s capacity for sexual fruition”. The principle of extraterritoriality was also applicable, making FGM punishable even if committed outside the country.
Child protection law
General child protection provisions could be used in cases of FGM, under Law 147/99 (Protection of Children and Young People at Risk Act). This law assigns the National Commission for the Protection of Children and Young People at Risk (CPCJ) a preventive and protective role in “situations that may affect the safety, health, formation, education and full development of children and youth”.
Law No. 27/2008 addresses grounds for asylum. Articles 3 and 5, which consider acts of persecution, contain two sections that can be applied in cases of FGM: §2a refers to acts of physical, mental or sexual violence and §2f refers to gender-based acts or those committed against minors. Law No 26/2014 introduced several changes to the previous law, including specifically referring to FGM as grounds for the granting of asylum.
Professional secrecy law
Portuguese healthcare professionals are generally required to adhere to norms of professional secrecy. However, the Code of Ethics allows for exceptions in certain cases, including the maltreatment of minors (under-18s). Physicians should therefore alert the relevant authorities in the case of actual or planned FGM in a minor.
General law with regard to professional secrecy and disclosure may be applied to reporting cases of actual or planned FGM. According to Article 242 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, health professionals, social workers, teachers, police officers and civil servants are obliged to report evidence of a crime they encounter in the course of their work. Specific reporting mechanisms with regard to crimes committed against children are outlined in Law No. 147/99 (Protection of Children and Young People at Risk Act) (Current Situation of Female Genital Mutilation in Portugal, EIGE, 2015).