LAWS AGAINST FGM IN THE U.S.
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. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either suffered the procedure or are at risk of FGM, a number that approximately doubled between 2000 and 2014. The estimated number of girls at risk of FGM in the US has quadrupled since 1997.
With the passage of the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 1996, performing FGM on anyone under the age of 18 became a felony in the United States. The law states that “whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or the labia minora or the clitoris of a girl who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under the law or imprisoned for at least five years or both.” In 2013, the federal law was amended to include “Vacation Cutting.” Vacation cutting is when a girl child is taken out of the United States to another country for the purpose of performing FGM on her.
Although FGM has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996, without a state law on the books, all crimes relating to FGM have to be prosecuted on a federal level.
In addition to the federal policy, 26 states have passed specific laws that prohibit FGM as of 2017:
Arizona California Colorado Delaware Florida Georgia
Illinois Kansas Louisiana Maryland Michigan Minnesota
Missouri Nevada New Jersey New York North Dakota Oklahoma
Oregon Rhode Island South Dakota Tennessee Texas Virginia
West Virginia Wisconsin
In 2017, after the FBI arrests of two Michigan doctors for performing FGM, the lawmakers in Virginia and Michigan wasted no time in passing a law against this practice. Under the Virginia law, persons performing the FGM practices can face both criminal charges and civil lawsuits. Additionally, once a young woman realizes the horror inflicted upon her, she is entitled to seek both compensatory and punitive damages against those complicit in mutilating her, which includes her parents. The Michigan lawmakers included in their bill, that if a health professional is convicted of performing FGM, then their license or registration can be revoked.
The U.S. has also participated in several UN resolutions that advocate for the eradication of FGM, including the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Anyone who is familiar with the practice of FGM knows that it violates the human rights of girls and women. In the past eighteen years, progress has been made in the U.S. but one of the biggest stumbling blocks continues to be lack of knowledge. The laws can only be effective if the general public, including law enforcement is fully knowledgeable on the practice of FGM. It is incumbent of activists, advocates and anti-FGM organizations to help educate the general public in the U.S. on the laws against the practice of FGM.