What is female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs and is often performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14 to ensure their virginity until marriage. FGM has no foundation in Islamic scripture or law; however, in the West it is mainly practiced in Muslim communities.
Is female genital mutilation harmful?
Yes. The World Health Organization reports that FGM has no health benefits and can cause a number of health problems. Immediately following the procedure, girls are at risk for severe pain, shock, bleeding, bacterial infection, and injury to nearby tissue. In the long term, girls and women who have suffered this procedure are at risk for recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, and complications during intercourse and childbirth.
Is female genital mutilation practiced in the United States?
Because this is a private ritual that occurs within the secrecy of the family, there is no way of knowing exactly how prevalent FGM is in the U.S. There have been few reported cases of FGM being performed in the U.S.; however, numerous authorities suspect that the actual numbers are far higher. There is also a concern that families send their daughters out of the country to suffer the procedure.
Research conducted by the African Women’s Health Center of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that approximately 228,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either suffered the procedure or are at risk of FGM, a number that increased by approximately 35% between 1990 and 2000.
Is female genital mutilation a crime?
Yes, FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
In January 2013, the federal FGM law was amended by the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, which prohibits knowingly transporting a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing FGM. The Act was designed to address the problem of “vacation cutting”, in which girls living in the United States are taken to their parents’ country of origin (typically during school breaks) to undergo the procedure. Under the new federal law, anyone found guilty of doing so may be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
FGM is also a crime in the following 21 states:
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
However, in many states where FGM is a crime, the sentencing provisions are quite weak. For example, in New York, a person convicted of FGM may avoid a prison sentence and receive only a sentence of probation.
The AHA Foundation depends on the generosity of individual donors to do our life-saving work. Thanks to your support, we’ve made great strides in fighting FGM in the United States. Our achievements include:
- Federal Extraterritoriality Amendment. The AHA Foundation has consistently advocated for the expansion of FGM legislation to include procedures performed abroad. In January 2013, the President significantly advanced those efforts when he signed into law the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act. While FGM has been illegal in the United States since 1996, this Bill strengthened the existing federal FGM ban by adding an “extraterritoriality” component, making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing the procedure. The AHA Foundation’s Founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and our Executive Director specifically consulted with Representative Crowley, a key proponent of the Bill, on the serious problem of “vacation cutting”, and lent our support for the language contained in the new Bill.
- State Prohibitions on FGM. The AHA Foundation has undertaken a campaign to encourage state legislators in the remaining 29 states to pass criminal prohibitions against FGM. We have written model FGM state legislation and have reached out to numerous state legislators to encourage them to introduce it. Thus far, our efforts have been met with considerable success:
- In February 2012, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced our model FGM legislation, which was unanimously passed in the State Senate. We continue to reach out to members of the Assembly committee on Women and Children to encourage them to bring this bill up for a vote.
- The AHA Foundation worked with Louisiana state legislators to include the same kind of “vacation cutting” provisions recently added to the federal law. In May of 2012, Governor Jindal signed into law a bill criminalizing FGM in the state of Louisiana. This bill includes the AHA Foundation’s model language that also makes it a crime to remove a girl from the state for the purpose of FGM; the law went into effect August 1, 2012.
- In February of 2013, we provided written testimony in support of a proposed FGM bill in Kansas, which includes an extra-territoriality component and other provisions contained in our model legislation. The Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on March 1 and was unanimously passed by the Senate on March 27th. It was signed into law by Governor Brownback April 10, 2013.
- We are currently working with Representative Thomas Murt to enact similar legislation in Pennsylvania, which has no specific law banning the practice. On March 19, 2013, Rep. Murt introduced an FGM bill in the Pennsylvania House. We are pleased that after consulting with the AHA Foundation, the language of the bill has been strengthened to include “vacation cutting.” We continue to work with lawmakers ensure that this law is enacted.
Our other ongoing initiatives include commissioning the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct research into the frequency and prevalence of FGM in New York City, and educating service providers on the risks of FGM and the reality of vacation cutting.