Drafting Laws on Harmful Practices

last updated June 2010

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following section for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing the role of the justice sector in ending violence against women, may be found under Justice at www.endvawnow.org.
All Governments are obligated under international law to undertake action to end harmful practices. This includes enacting comprehensive legislation, collecting disaggregated data regarding the prevalence and forms of harmful practices practiced in their respective countries, undertaking awareness raising and capacity-building activities, including to ensure that lawyers, law enforcement officials, health professionals and other relevant service providers are sensitized to the causes and consequences of harmful practices and on how to identify and effectively respond to victims/survivors. Governments also have an obligation to tackle societal attitudes which perpetuate harmful practices, as well as to address their root causes, including through legislation which addresses gender discrimination in all its forms. Equality must take precedence over the interests of those wishing to maintain a status quo that discriminates against women. 
In order to eliminate harmful practices, government action and legislation must take multiple forms and engage various groups, including educational, legal, health services, cultural, and religious leaders, to effect true change and end harmful practices. Legal reform can play a valuable role in working to end harmful practices. 
While use of legal measures needs to be carefully considered and used in conjunction with other education efforts, laws can be a useful tool for change, giving NGOs and individuals greater leverage in persuading communities to abandon the practice.

See: Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide.

General Principles for Drafting Laws on Harmful Practices
Learn the core elements of legislation on harmful practices, how to draft a preamble for a harmful practices law, and tips for adopting a national plan of action, ratifying human rights treaties, and ensuring constitutional protections.

Reforming Existing Law & Culture
Explore ways to reform and amend existing laws as well as influence the existing cultural values and beliefs in order to better accommodate legislation that combats harmful traditional practices.

Criminalization of Harmful Practices
See guidelines on criminalizing harmful practices and imposing penalties, establishing clear definitions for harmful practices, broadening liability to those who are complicit or assist in the harm, and avoiding mitigation of sentences and potential defenses such as consent.

Civil, Protective, & Asylum Law
Find tips for developing legislation and policies to help prevent future harm to victims and provide victims with orders of protection, compensation for their injuries, or asylum in a nation where their human rights will be respected.

Victims' Services
Learn tips on developing a response and support system for victims. Find examples of model programs that protect, rather than persecute, victims of harmful practices and their immediate families.

Awareness and Education
Follow a few basic guidelines to develop a public awareness and training campaign that will allow you to successfully implement legislation outlawing harmful practices.

Guidelines for Specific Practices
Specific types of harmful practices may require specially tailored legislation. Find guidelines for drafting laws and developing policies on son preference, acid attacks, breast ironing, and more.





Anika Rahman and Nahid Toubia, Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide.