Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
(FGM/C) in North America & Europe
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 in some predominately Muslim countries where it is practiced as a social
tradition. FGM is widely banned around the world and has been criminalized in more than 30 countries
It is also done some "inter-sex" newborns and infants
in North America and Europe for what are
seen by some as justified for medical or psychological reasons. Inter-sex newborns are typically have genital structures that match those of both males and females. Sometimes, it is not possible to reliably determine the biological sex of a newborn by visual inspection, and the child's DNA must be analyzed for the presence of a "Y" chromosome (indicating male) or its absence (indicating female.) Surgery is sometimes performed to make these structures more closely match those of the newborn's biological sex. That practice has become controversial.
Where Female Genital Mutilation is practiced:
This operation is performed as a cultural or religious ritual on many children in some
countries of the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia and other
countries in Asia. Although it is often viewed as a Muslim practice, it is practiced by people of all religions in those countries where it is common. 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
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,
Norway, Senegal, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, the United Kingdom, and some states in the U.S.
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 with having committed a crime. 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)
US: 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 Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). 3 The law provides for prison sentences of up to 5 years for
",,, 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
The law also requires US representatives to the World Bank and similar financial institutions 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 couple 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 in about half of the states, including California, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and
Tennessee. 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 their area from African countries where FGM is widely practiced.
Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a womens clinic in that city commented:
"I know of
one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country."
cases are seen each year at that clinic.
During late 2018, the first prosecution under the federal FGM law occurred in a federal District Court in Detroit. It ended in an acquittal for two Michigan doctors and six others. The case involved at least nine female child victims from Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman concluded that "... as despicable as this practice may be," Congress did not have the authority to pass the 22-year-old federal law that criminalizes female genital mutilation.
He concluded that:
"There is nothing commercial or economic about FGM. ... [It] is not part of a larger market and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause does not permit Congress to regulate a crime of this nature." 15
He ruled that it is up to the individual states to regulate FGM, not the federal government. In his ruling, he wrote:
"As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be ... federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute. ... Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM ... FGM is a 'local criminal activity' which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress." 8
The parents who were the defendants in this case were "all members of a small Indian Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra, which has a mosque in Farmington Hills, MI. They are part of the Shia sect of Islam. They believe that FGM is a religious rite of passage that involves only a minor 'nick'."
Only a narrow majority of twenty-seven states, including Michigan, currently have laws criminalizing FGM. 8
Mariya Taher in Cambridge, MA is the head of a worldwide campaign to ban FGM. She was cut at the age of seven. She said:
"Oh my God, this is crazy, ... Unfortunately, this is going to embolden those who believe that this must be continued ... they’ll feel that this is permission, that it’s OK to do this. ... This is a violation of one person’s human rights. It's a form of gender violence. ... This is cultural violence."
Yasmeen Hassan, executive global director for Equality Now, an international women's rights organization, said that it says to women and girls:
"... you are not important."
He called the ruling a "federal blessing" of FGM.
"In this day and age, for FGM to still occur --- and a federal government [that] can’t regulate this with a human rights violation --- is very bizarre. This is not what I expected. It's so not what I expected. ... I don't think it's possible for the federal government not to appeal this case. My feeling is that it will go all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court.
Michigan State Senator, Rick Jones (R) noted that 23 states have no anti-FGM law in place. He said:
"I'm angry that the federal judge dismissed this horrific case that affected upwards of a hundred girls who were brutally victimized and attacked against their will.
This is why it was so important for Michigan to act. We set a precedent that female genital mutilation will not be tolerated here, and we did so by passing a state law that comes with a 15-year felony punishment. I hope other states will follow suit." 8
Since about half of the states do not have an anti-FGM statute on the books, it is relatively easy for parents to go to an adjacent or nearby state where there is no law banning the practice and having it performed there. Thus, the federal anti-FGM statute must be found constitutional in order to inhibit FGM in the U.S.
The Trump Administration has decided to not defend the federal law. Federal prosecutors will not appeal the Federal District Court's ruling. They decided that the law is weak and needs to be rewritten.
On 2019-APR-10, Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote a letter to Congress saying:
"Although the department has determined not to appeal the district court's decision, it recognizes the severity of the charged conduct, its lifelong impact on victims, and the importance of a federal prohibition on FGM committed on minors."
Many women's rights groups were very disturbed by the District Court ruling. 16 Shelby Quast, the Americas director of equality for "Equality Now" a women's rights organization, said:
"It’s a giant step backward in the protection of women’s and girls’ rights, especially when there is a global movement to eliminate this practice." 15
Hillary Clinton tweeted:
"There is a federal law banning FGM. It is the Department of Justice’s responsibility to defend it.
They’re choosing instead to abandon the fight for the health and human rights of women and girls around the world.
If you agree that’s outrageous, let them know: 202-353-1555." 15
Neal Katyal, a Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center, who served as Acting Solicitor General of the United States from during parts of 2010 and 2011, tweeted:
"Just learned Trump DOJ has now abandoned its defense of the statute criminalizing, of all things, female genital mutilation. This is what happens when you torch your institutional responsibilities to defend statutes, and gut the traditional standard DOJ has applied in past [Obama] admin." 15
Unfortunately, passing a new law would require time to overcome Congressional and Presidential hurdles. This would leave the District Court decision in place for some time, if it is not appealed. In the meantime, with no effective federal law in place, many girls are expected to be transported to other states that have no anti-FGM law in place, to be cut.
UK: A law banning FGM has been on the books since the late 1980's. The latest version is the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003. 10 However, although there have been a few charges under the law, there had been no successful prosecutions as of the end of 2018. 11,13 Evidence is difficult to collect. Often, children are reluctant to supply information that might harm their parents.
However, during 2019-FEB, a UK court found a 37-year-old woman, who formerly lived in Uganda, guilty of performing FGM on her three-year-old daughter during 2017. The mother received an 11 year sentence to which was added an additional two years for her possession of indecent images and extreme pornography.
The judge, Mrs Justice Whipple, said:
"FGM has long been against the law and let's be clear FGM is a form of child abuse, It's a barbaric practice and a serious crime. It's an offense which targets women, particularly inflicted when they are young and vulnerable." 14
The daughter made a "very speedy recovery" and has since been placed with anothr family. 14
Canada: Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily
resident in Canada, (as citizens or landed migrants) from being taken to another country
and subjected to FGM. In the US and Canada, a very small percentage of immigrants who wish
to continue the practice often find it impossible to find a local doctor who will cooperate. The
operation is sometimes done illegally in the home by poorly trained persons, under less
than sterile conditions.
The federal government gives a "Discover Canada" guide to each person seeking citizenship in the country to help them write the citizenship examination. It was written in 2011 and contains a warning that certain "barbaric cultural practices" such as honor killing and female genital mutilation are crimes in Canada. The Immigration Minister, John McCallum (Liberal) announced early in 2016 that the guide was to be rewritten. In the draft version of 2017-JUL, the references to "barbaric cultural practices" were deleted. It also discusses the evolution of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual persons (LGBT) during the previous decade.
The deletion of the "barbaric cultural practices" references triggered objections. The 2017-JUL-25 edition of the Toronto Star contains a letter to the editor from Lisa Volkov of Toronto who said in part:
"... it is absolutely essential for the protection of women and girls in this country that it be made clear in the new guide ... that female genital mutilation is considered criminal and unacceptable in Canada."
In the same edition, Sandy Forester of Bolton ON wrote:
"Please, oh please, leave these two items in the guide book, as it's so important that our new Canadians better understand the right of citizenship."
As of 2019-APR-03, the current version of the 68 page "Discover Canada" guide can be downloaded at no cost. 12 Page 9, in the section titled Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, still contains the "barbaric" reference. It states:
"The Equality of Women and Men:
In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws." 17
France: 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 had allegedly been 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."
Greou, known among the Malian community in Paris as "Mama Greou" 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.
|Norway: 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
|Europe: 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.
Sacks & Kolken is law firm that has won a number of FGM-related asylum
cases. Their website is at: http://www.sackskolken.com/
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- 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:
- Associated Press article, 1998-FEB-16, quoted in the Feminist Majority
Foundation's web site at:
- Text of the "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of
1995" is online at:
- "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:
- Megan Costello, "Two in U.S. Accused of Genital Mutilation,"
Womensenews, 2004-FEB-19, at:
- 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:
- "FGM Joint Statement, WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, (1997, Page 4)
- Tresa Baldas, "Judge dismisses female genital mutilation charges in historic case," Detroit Free Press, 2018-NOV-20, at: https://www.freep.com/
- Douglas Murray, "Does America oppose female genital mutilation – or not?," Spectator (U), 2018-NOV-21, at: https://spectator.us/
- "Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003," UK government, 2003-OCT-30, at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/
- Jan Knippers Black, "The Politics of Human Rights Protection, book, Page 125. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- "Discover Canada," Booklet, Government of Canada, undated, at: https://www.canada.ca/
- Hannah Summers, "Those Involved in FGM Will Find Ways to Evade UK Law," The Guardian, 2018-MAR-07. https://www.theguardian.com/
- "Woman jailed for 11 years for performing FGM on her 3-year-old daughter," CNN World, 2019-MAR-08, at: https://www.cnn.com/
- Robert Snell, "Feds abandon female genital mutilation appeal," The Detroit News, 2019-APR-12, at: https://www.detroitnews.com/
- "Women’s Rights Advocates Condemn DOJ Decision to Not Defend Female Genital Mutilation Law," Women's eNews, 2019-APR-25, at: https://womensenews.org/
- "Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship," as on 2019-MAY-03, Government of Canada, at: https://www.canada.ca/
See our news
feed on women's issues. It shows 20 current news items, and is updated
every 15 minutes.
Copyright © 1998 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 1998-MAR-16
Last updated on 2019-MAY-03
Author: Bruce A Robinson