Risk of female genital mutilation – practiced in radical Islam – rising in U.S. Activists want to end it

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Photo Credit: Aha Foundation

The barbaric practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in majority Muslim countries worldwide – but I bet you didn’t know it may be on the rise in the United States.

According to the United Nations, girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have undergone FGM. And worldwide, 200 million women alive today have undergone some form of the practice. Even toddlers have been reported to have been mutilated in this backward and dangerous practice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds the risk to women and girls of undergoing FGM has surged in the United States.

“The increase in FGM in the US is almost entirely, if not entirely, due to the increase in immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced.  Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and others all have very high rates of FGM with more than 90 percent of girls in each country undergoing this abusive practice,” Executive Director of the Aha Foundation Amanda Parker told Borderless.

The Aha Foundation was founded by Hirsi Ali, a Dutch politician who immigrated to Holland from Somalia, and who herself was a victim of FGM at age 5.

In addition to being illegal in 24 states, there is a federal law against FGM.  In the United States it is either performed in secret or girls are taken to their families’ country of origin for the procedure.  This is a practice referred to as “vacation cutting” as it is typically done during school holidays so as not to bring attention to girls being absent from school in order to heal.  Former President Barack Obama outlawed taking girls overseas for FGM with the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, Parker noted.

Activists are trying to push to eradicate it, and are calling on U.S. states to make the practice illegal, reported Fox News.

The number of at risk underage girls in the United Sates has risen four fold since 1997, according to the CDC, and more than half a million women and girls are at risk of undergoing the horrific practice.

It is important to note that the statistics are an indicator of risk, but that there are no available stats on how many have fallen victim to the practice inside the United States. Activists say the U.S. rise stems from large numbers of immigrants in recent decades from the Middle East and other regions where the practice is widespread.

The practice – usually performed on girls between ages 4 and 14 – is done in a variety of ways, and is at times done in hospitals. But for the most part, it’s done outside of medical facilities with anything from scissors to razor blades. In smaller villages in Africa, the practice has at times been done with a sharp piece of glass that has not been disinfected.

While the practice is performed in non-Muslim regions such as Christian and animist Africa, more puritanical strains of Islam have tied it into the Islamist belief that a woman should be “pure.” The belief is that the practice of cutting off a woman’s or girl’s clitoris will free her of unholy sexual urges and ensure that she remains a chaste virgin until marriage. Critics say that’s just a pretext to ensure male dominance in places like the Middle East, and a way of robbing women of control of their own sexuality.

The key, say advocates of eradicating the practice in the United States, is to educate new immigrants from countries where the practice is performed, and to make it clear that it will not be tolerated inside the United States.

However, it is unlikely, at least at this point, that the practice will reverse itself, many observers opine, as the government is not particularly focused on eliminating the practice inside the United States.

FGM has been outlawed under federal law since 1996, and could carry with it up to five years in prison. In 2013, the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act was added to the law to include those taking a girl out of the United States to have the wicked procedure done.

In 2013, the non-profit Population Reference Bureau determined that over 25,000 women and girls in several states are at risk for FGM. Those states are California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York Texas, Washington and Virginia.

However, the practice is not outlawed in all states, and the non-profit AHA Foundation says women and girls in a number of U.S. states are at risk for FGM. The AHA Foundation lists several states as places where FGM is not outlawed. Those are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

There’s an ongoing argument over whether FGM is permissible in Islam, and Borderless will not wade into that theological debate. But the chairman of Indonesia’s top clerical group, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, announced in recent years that  “circumcision is a requirement for every Muslim woman.”

While Indonesia has been called a moderate Muslim nation, strains of radicalism are creeping up, and radical Saudi Arabia is exporting its ideology to the world’s most populist Muslim nation.

FGM may be creeping into other Western nations, such as the UK.  In 2014, a top police officer said the practice should be considered a crime against children and that adherents should not defend it as cultural practice by wrapping themselves in political correctness.

In 2013, a 13-year-old girl in Egypt died during a procedure to have her genitals cut off. The physician was initially acquitted, but was later convicted on appeal and sentenced to two years.

Although the practice was banned in Egypt several years ago, FGM is widespread in the majority Muslim nation.

***CORRECTION: The original version mistakenly wrote that 200 women worldwide have experienced some form of FGM. The story has been amended to write that 200 million women worldwide have experienced some form of FGM.

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