Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe last Monday, March 20th, signed into law the criminalization of the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). This law goes into effect on July 1st, 2017 in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Female genital mutilation or cutting is the intentional removal of either all or part of the external female genitalia for no medical reason whatsoever. The practice of FGM/C was federally criminalized in 1996. The federal law in the United States reads, “Whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or the labia minora of the clitoris of a girl who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under the law or imprisoned for at least five years or both.” The U.S. Federal Government opposes FGM/C, no matter the type, degree, or severity, and no matter what the motivation for performing it. The U.S. Federal Government understands that FGM/C may be carried out in accordance with traditional beliefs and as part of adulthood initiation rites. Nevertheless, the U.S. Government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse.
This past January, Virginia Senator, Richard H. Black introduced a bill to the Virginia Senate to criminalize the practice of FGM/C in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Last month, the bill known as Bill No. 1060 unanimously passed the Virginia General Assembly. With the signing of this bill by the Governor, Virginia now joins 24 other states in the U.S. that currently have laws against FGM/C. Portions of Bill No. 1060 read as follows:
Any person injured by an individual who engaged in conduct that is prohibited under 18.2-51.7, whether or not the individual has been charged with or convicted of the alleged violation, may sue therefor and recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees and costs.
Any person who knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates, in whole or in any part, the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Any parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the care of a minor who consents to the circumcision, excision, or infibulation, in whole or in any part, of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of such minor is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation last week asked Senator Black for a statement on the Governor’s signing of Bill No. 1060 into law. The Senator said, “I am pleased with this first step toward addressing the brutal practice of FGM. No girl should be subjected to this horror. Our Nation must address this practice and prevent its spread in civilized nations.”
Although the penalty of this bill is a Class 1 misdemeanor; one needs to be mindful that Virginia also has a felony law against malicious wounding, under which a case against FGM/C can be prosecuted.
FGM/C continues to be the subject of conversation regarding types of gender based violence and women’s and girls’ health in the U.S. The common knowledge now around the U.S. and other parts of the world is that FGM/C violates the human rights of girls and women. However, the complex issue of the prevention of FGM/C in the United States remains a question. Although progress has been made in the U.S. however one of the problems has been the lack of knowledge. The laws can only be effective if the general public, including law enforcement is fully knowledgeable on the practice of FGM/C. It is incumbent of activists, advocates and anti-FGM/C organizations to help educate the general public in the U.S. on the laws and practices of FGM/C, especially in communities.
The entire contents of Bill No. 1060 will be made available to the general public on the websites of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation and IAC-USA.
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