Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is something all too common in African countries, as well as European countries with a large number of African immigrants. But according to startling statistics, FGM is also on the rise in the U.S.
FGM was banned in the U.S. in 1997. And when you think about it, that wasn’t too long ago.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the U.S. are at risk of being forced to undergo cutting. The CDC says “at risk” because there are no actual records of the practice, only estimates. Even with the estimates, the data is still outdated, but with recent immigration numbers health officials are on alert.
“It is hard to believe this is the real number because of how much [FGM-practicing] communities are growing, especially in the last two or three years,” said Mariama Diallo, African community specialist at Sanctuary for Families, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to helping domestic violence and trafficking victims. Her organization could only extrapolate using census data when it issued a report on the growing problem last year.
Immigration to the U.S. from countries in Africa quadrupled between 1990 and 2011 from 360,000 to 1.6 million according to a recent report released by New York City’s planning department.“The numbers need to be updated – but this needs funding and no one is interested,” said Dr. Nawal Nour, founder of the African Women’s Health Practice at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Not only can victims of FGM suffer from health problems such as
severe abdominal pain, vaginal and pelvic infections, pain during sex, complications during childbirth, but many also suffer from mental health issues as well.
Because many victims are mutilated by their own family members, the crime often goes unreported.
Marie, who received FGM at the age of 2, is now 34 and living in NYC and is still dealing with issues.
“I have so many problems, with my husband, with sex, with childbirth,” she told NBC News, withholding her real name to protect her identity. “The consequences on my life are all negative, both physically and psychologically.”
“People won’t report against their families,” Marie said. “Even if there is protection from the government, it is difficult for a victim to disclose it through fear of retaliation from their family, and fear of losing their family,” she said.
Many health workers in various states realize the taboo surrounding FGM, which makes their job even harder. From the lack of reporting, to police officials not knowing how to proceed once a complaint has been made.
Maybe the U.S could look to France as an example when it comes to prosecuting for FGM. So far France has prosecuted over 100 perpetrators of FGM, compared to the one U.S. prosecution. In France, although there is no FGM law, the prosecutions are done with child protection laws.
“There was no need for a special law that would amount to pointing the finger towards immigrants,” said French lawyer Linda Weil-Curiel.
“We had enough legal provisions in the penal code to prosecute and punish the ‘mutilation of minors,’ and the penal code is applicable to everyone on French soil, without discrimination.”
“The large publicity in the media of the trials sent a clear message to the families: This is what you are going to get – shame and a prison term – if you do not respect the law.”
It’s time for the U.S. to take step in the same direction as France.