Ban on Overseas Female Genital Cutting Proposed

The practice of female genital cutting (FGC) was outlawed in the U.S. in 1996. However, the law does not prohibit parents from sending their daughters overseas to undergo the procedure. Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) proposed a bill (known as the “Girls Protection Act of 2010”) on April 26 that would outlaw the practice of sending girls to other countries for the operation.

FGC is a tradition in certain regions of Africa and the Middle East. For this reason, it is most common for recent immigrants from these areas to use the loophole in the law to send their daughters back to their homeland for the operation. FGC is traditionally meant to ensure that girls remain virgins until marriage and therefore be more desirable to potential husbands. The intention is also sometimes to prevent women from enjoying sex. FGC can take the form of the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), the removal of the entire clitoris and the removal of the labia minora (excision), or the removal of all external female genitalia and the stitching together of both sides of the vulva (infibulation). The procedure is often performed without anesthetic and can cause lifelong complications. Some girls die after the operation.

Senator Crowley introduced the bill after hearing reports that victims of FGC have been anonymously seeking treatment and detailing their experiences to women’s shelters in his district of Queens, New York City.

The American Pediatrics Society (APA) recently attempted to limit the number of parents who send their daughters overseas to receive FGC by endorsing a “nicking” procedure in the U.S. The intention was to perform a ceremonial, non-harmful pinprick on girls if it would prevent parents from sending their daughters overseas to receive the full procedure. Many advocacy groups and lawmakers criticized the decision before the APA reversed it. Rep. Crowley was one such critic. He argued that the approval of a “nicking” procedure would create confusion about whether it was ever okay to perform the procedure when FGC should be discouraged in all circumstances.

Sadly, while FGC is outlawed in the U.S., there are currently no ramifications for parents who choose to send their daughters overseas to have the procedure. Rep. Crowley has introduced a bill that would outlaw this practice and make girls in the U.S. safer without legalizing a form of FGC here. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. You can contact your U.S. representative here.

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