Niger MPs reject protocol on women's rights

Niamey - Niger's parliament has voted down Africa's Maputo Protocol on women's rights in a setback for the accord aiming to guarantee women equality in all spheres of life and end the practice of female circumcision.

The protocol, adopted by African heads of state in 2003 at a summit in Mozambique, came into force last November after being ratified by the threshold 15 nations.

The government of Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, approved the protocol back in January, but lawmakers voted against it at the weekend by 42 votes to 31, with four abstentions, official media said on Monday.

"The rejection of the motion is a serious setback for Niger, but this is a proper application of democratic principles," government spokesperson Mohamed Ben Omar told state daily newspaper The Sahel.

Niger, 95 percent Muslim, is one of the most conservative societies in Africa.

Female circumcision - often referred to as female genital mutilation - is common, as are polygamy, child marriage and other customs discouraged or banned by the Maputo Protocol.

The protocol aims to guarantee women rights in marriage, politics, education, employment and a host of other areas, and requires countries which ratify it to respect those rights in their own domestic laws.

Although welcomed by campaigners for human and women's rights across Africa and beyond, the Maputo Protocol has met opposition from some quarters.

Catholic bishops in Uganda objected to its commitment to allow abortions for victims of rape and incest or where pregnancy would endanger the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or foetus.

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