Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools


Last edited: January 26, 2011

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The criminalization of harmful practices may have an important deterrent effect.   However, in many countries where the harmful practices discussed in this asset are prevalent, harmful practices have either only recently been criminalize or are still not criminalized.   

When criminalizing harmful practices, it is important to consider the following:  

  • Does law enforcement have enough resources and capacity to appropriately implement the new criminal laws. If not, how will this be addressed?
  • Do customary laws support or contradict such legislation? If contradictory, refer to Resolving Conflict with Customary and Religious Laws section above and ensure that supremacy of constitutional or national law protections provisions is clearly stated in the new legislation. 
  • Has awareness-raising has been conducted within the community to ensure that members are aware of the harmful consequences of the practice, the need to abandon it, and the fact that the practice will be criminalized under the new law. 
  • Is there approval within the community to allow a victim to take legal action against other community members who may be the perpetrators of the harmful practice?
  • Would implementing a criminal law disproportionately affect and/or alienate one ethnic group? 
  • Will the way in which the new criminal offense be implemented be in the best interests of the girl child? This is particularly important considering that many harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation or breast ironing, are perpetrated by or supported by the victims’ parents or care-takers, and criminal penalties such as long jail sentences may have significant effect on the interests of the child victim.   

Criminalization can take place by either enacting a law specifically prohibiting the practice, as was done with FGM in Senegal, or through the use of general criminal law provisions that assign penalties for various actions including the specific harmful practice at issue, as was done in France with FGM. Governments choosing the latter must make special efforts to educate the public that what was legal one day could result in criminal prosecution the next. 

In any event, legislation criminalizing specific harmful practices should only be enacted with a corresponding broader governmental strategy to change the underlying social customs and individual beliefs in which these practices are so deeply entrenched.