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Female Genital Mutilation in North America & Europe

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Summary:

Female Genital Mutilation is an invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty. It is occasionally performed within Aboriginal, Christian and Muslim families who have emigrated to North America or Europe from some predominately Muslim countries where it is practiced as a social tradition. It is also done at birth to some "inter-sex" infants in Europe for what are seen by some as justified for medical or psychological reasons.

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Female Genital Mutilation among immigrants:

This operation is occasionally performed on children of immigrants from some Muslim countries of the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia and other Muslim countries in Asia. It is seen by some of its supporters as a religious duty, social custom, and/or a necessary operation for health reasons. It is criticized by those in opposition as a cruel mutilation of a young girl in order to reduce her sexual response after puberty.

In the West, the procedure is outlawed in

"Australia (six states), Burkina Faso, Canada, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, New Zealand, Nigeria (3 states), Norway, Senegal, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Legislation against FGM can be counter-productive in some cases. It might force the practice deeply underground. Women may not seek medical care later in life because their parents might be charged. The operation can be life threatening if performed by untrained individuals; if the operation is botched, the parents may be reluctant to take the child to a hospital out of fear of being criminally charged with child abuse. On the other hand, it does indicate that the government has taken a stand against FGM. This, and potential penalties, may well cause some parents to decide against having their daughter(s) mutilated.

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bulletUS: After 20 years of personal effort, Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) saw a US federal bill, "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995"  passed in 1996-SEP. The bill had been introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada). 3 The law provides for prison sentences of up to 5 years for anyone who "circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18." US representatives to the World Bank and similar financial institutions are required to oppose loans to countries where FGM is prevalent and in which there are no anti-FGM educational programs. The law took effect on 1997-MAR-30. The first charges under the law were made in late 2003 when a California couples was arrested in a FBI sting operation allegedly after having agreed to perform a FGM procedure on two fictitious girls. 5

FGM has also been criminalized at the state level in California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, and other states. At least one FGM assistance, education and support group is operating in the U.S. among immigrants from countries that practice FGM. 1

Specialists in Denver, CO, reported in 1998 that at least  6,000 immigrants have settled in the area from African countries which widely practice FGM. 2  Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women’s clinic in that city commented: "I know of one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country." About 4 FGM cases are seen each year at the clinic.

bulletCanada: Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily resident in Canada, (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from the country and subjected to FGM. In the US and Canada, the very small percentage of Muslims who wish to continue the practice often find it impossible to find a doctor who will cooperate. The operation may then be done illegally in the home by poorly trained persons, under less than sterile conditions.

bulletFrance: On 1999-FEB-3, Hawa Greou went on trial in France on charges of "voluntarily bodily injury causing mutilation or permanent disability." She is alleged to having mutilated the genitals of about 50 young girls. Also charged were 27 parents of the victims. The case was triggered by a complaint by a woman of Malian origin, Mariatou Koita. Both she and her sister were allegedly mutilated by Greou. Jean Chavais, the defendant's lawyer, admits that the mutilations were carried out. He said : "If the trial can help bring about an end to this custom, then it will be useful. But punishment is not as effective as education and prevention...This is an African custom that has existed for centuries. It takes a long time to change habits." Ms. Greou, known among the Malian community in Paris as "Mama Greou" had received a one year suspended sentence in 1994 for excising two girls. This time, she was given an 8 year jail sentence. Parents received sentences ranging from a 3 year suspended sentence to 2 years in prison.

bulletNorway: The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, reports that:

"In Norway, where this brutal act is also prevalent, a young Somali woman was recently beaten, almost to death, for talking to TV documentary programme-makers." 6

bulletEurope: According to a 1977 joint statement by the  WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, 500,000 females in the European Union have either been mutilated or are at risk for mutilation. 7

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Immigration lawyers:

Sacks & Kolken is law firm that has won a number of FGM-related asylum cases. Their website is at:  http://www.sackskolken.com/ 

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References:

  1. M. Ramsey, "Forward USA/Ethiopia: Assistance, education and support for women and girls affected by female genital mutilation." This group has disappeared from the Internet and may no longer exist. For support questions in the U.S. you might try contacting:
    bulletAfrican Women's Health Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, at: http://www.brighamandwomens.org/ This is the first and only African health practice in the United State that focuses FGM.

    bulletResearch, Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women (RAINBO)) at: http://www.rainbo.org/

    bulletThe National Women's Health Information Center, at: http://www.4woman.gov/

    See also our list of books and Internet resources on FGM

  2. Associated Press article, 1998-FEB-16, quoted in the Feminist Majority Foundation's web site at: http://feminist.org/
  3. Text of the "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995" is online at: http://www.fgmnetwork.org/
  4. "Legislation on Female Genital Mutilation in the United States," Center for Reproductive Rights, at: http://www.reproductiverights.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  5. Megan Costello, "Two in U.S. Accused of Genital Mutilation," Womensenews, 2004-FEB-19, at: http://www.womensenews.org/
  6. Jo-Ann Goodwin & David Jones, "How the unspeakable practice of female circumcision is destroying young women's lives in 21st century Britain," Daily Mail, 2007-JAN-03, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
  7. "FGM Joint Statement, WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, (1997, Page 4)

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See our news feed on women's issues. It shows 20 current news items, and is updated every 15 minutes.

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Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1998-MAR-16

Last updated on 2011-APR-23
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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