The number of little girls – as well as adult women – who are forced into the appalling ritual of genital torture in America, has increased 300% over the last decade. And there is absolutely no reason to believe those numbers will shrink anytime soon.
That is but one downside of out-of-control immigration.
And if you think the typical physician in this country is willing to report the damage they see during their routine examinations, you are seriously mistaken. They almost never do.
The best estimates are that at least 500,000 females in the U.S. have been subjected to the torture, including at least 166,000 under the age of 18.* Mid-Eastern and African immigrants – who often embrace the torture as a deeply-rooted cultural tradition – are the driving factor for the unspeakable ritual.**
African and Mid-Eastern immigration to America has doubled every decade since 1970, with nearly 2,000,000 now living here. Immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria, for example – are all countries that perform FGM. About 20% of females at risk are from Egypt, Somalians rank second.
One recent study of FGM in the U.S. was released by the African Women’s Health Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2004 and found more than 227,000 American women were at risk of or had undergone FGM.
But a more recent CDC report supports the PRB study, with 513,000 females living here with FGM today.
California has the largest number of at-risk women and girls, with 57,000; New York 50,000, and Minnesota, with 45,000. New York, Washington and Minneapolis-St. Paul are the metropolitan areas with the largest numbers of at-risk women and girls. Included in the data are girls at risk of being sent back to their family’s origin country to undergo FGM—a practice widely known as “vacation cutting”
The ritual, performed in 30 countries at the hands of midwives or physicians, involves cutting the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It can also include cutting away part of the clitoris to removing the inner and outer vaginal lips before sewing the remaining skin together, leaving a small hole for urination and menstrual blood.
The practice is extremely common, with its supporters believing it purifies the female, ensure she remains sexually inactive, prevent cheating on her future husband and keep her well-behaved.
Immigration to Western countries where FGM is not practiced, forces health care providers to adapt to the harmful consequences. Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, England reports treating 1,500 cases of FGM over the last 5 years. They have identified special health care needs of these patients: psychological trauma; greater attention during childbirth due to pain; genital tearing and the injury posed to the unborn child.
FGM has been illegal in the U.S. for 20 years, but an amendment to the law banning vacation cutting wasn’t passed until 2012. In 2006, Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian immigrant, was the first person convicted of performing FGM in the U.S. after he cut his daughter’s clitoris off with a pair of scissors.
U.S. Representatives Joe Crowley of New York, and Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas, introduced new legislation, Equality Now, to close a loophole that allowed parents to take their children abroad for the torture. The bill establishes a hotline for at-risk girls and better education for teachers and health care workers.
The introduction of the law was timed to coincide with the U.N.’s Zero Tolerance Day, held annually to celebrate the progress that’s been made toward FGM elimination—like the passing of legislation banning it in countries like Kenya, Guinea-Bissau and Uganda—but also recognize what still needs to be done.
“It’s an important moment for everybody to reflect on the harms of this practice, on the commitments that have been done at the international level,” says Nafissatou Diop, the coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF joint program on FGM. “We have girls fighting for their rights, we have communities, religious leaders, women, men, who are saying no to the practice of FGM.”
According to Diop, many doctors are pressured into providing FGM services by their communities. But, she adds, FGM performed by a doctor “is not safer. FGM cannot be safe.”
Medicalized FGM is commonplace. In Egypt, 75% of victims who undergo FGM are cut by healthcare staff. The torture is so widespread that it is a serious source of income for many doctors.
Without this insane ritual, many parents believe a daughter can never be an obedient wife.
* According to the Population Reference Bureau
** Mark Mather, a demographer at PRB who led the data analysis