Does the state in which you reside have a law against FGM? Do you know what FGM is? Have you even heard of it? If not, female genital mutilation (FGM) is the intentional removal of either all or part of the external female genitalia. There is absolutely no medical reason or need to have it done. If you are unsure of whether or not your state has a law against FGM, please continue to read this article. If your state is not mentioned as having passed a law against the practice of FGM, and you would like to see a law passed, you might want to write to your state senators and congress representatives.
FGM continues to be a subject of conversation regarding types of gender based violence, and how it impacts the health of women and girls in the United States. Anyone who is familiar with the practice of FGM should know that it violates the human rights of girls and women. However, the complex issue of the prevention of FGM in the United States remains a puzzle. Most of the laws against FGM in the United States were put forth between 1996 and 1999 until in recent years.
In the past eighteen years, progress has been made in the U.S. but one of the problems has been lack of knowledge. The laws can only be effective if the general public, including law enforcement is fully knowledgeable on the practice of FGM. It is incumbent of activists, advocates and anti-FGM organizations to help educate the general public in the U.S. on the laws and practices of FGM.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the U.S. Congress passed several legislative measures relating to FGM in 1996. The practice of FGM on a minor is defined as a federal criminal offense, unless necessary to protect a young girl’s health. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) compiled data on FGM and engaged in education and outreach to relevant U.S. communities. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was directed to provide information to all travelers issued U.S. visas on the health and psychological effects of FGM, as well as on the legal consequences of FGM under criminal or child-protection statutes. The practice of female genital mutilation was then criminalized in the United States by Congress.
Although the federal law became effective in 1996, the state of Minnesota was the first U.S. state to pass their law against FGM in 1994. On August 1, 1995, North Dakota became the second state in the U.S. to criminalize FGM. In the same year the federal law went into effect, a number of U.S. states put forth and passed state laws against FGM. Rhode Island, Delaware, Tennessee and Wisconsin passed laws in 1996. In 1997, New York, Nevada and California followed other states by enacting FGM laws. A year later, Illinois and Maryland added FGM to their criminal codes. In 1999, West Virginia, Texas, Oregon and Colorado passed FGM state laws. As the twenty-first century came in, Missouri began the year 2000 by criminalizing the practice of FGM. Since then, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona and South Dakota have passed state laws prohibiting the practice of FGM.
The federal law was amended in 2013 to add the Vacation Cutting clause. Vacation cutting is when a girl child is taken out of the United States to another country for the purpose of performing FGM on her. Several states have since amended their state laws to include Vacation Cutting. Most states in recent years automatically included clauses in their laws that cover Vacation Cutting.
In 2017 two states put forth and passed laws prohibiting the practice of FGM. A year ago, Virginia Senator, Richard H. Black of the 13th District of Virginia authored a Bill and presented it to his colleagues on the State Senate floor. The Virginia Senate unanimously passed the Bill, and so did the General Assembly. The Virginia Governor signed the Bill into law without hesitation. On July 1, 2017, Virginia became the twenty-fifth state in the U.S. to ban FGM. Senator Black told Global Woman Newsletter at the time, “My objective is not simply to pass a bill; it is to attack the cultural support for the practice.” Due to lack of budget appropriations, Virginia had to settle for a misdemeanor law. However the Senator promised to revisit the Bill and introduce an amendment to have the law changed from a misdemeanor to a felony in 2018. To date, the Senator has kept his word and currently has plans to keep his promise when the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes early this year.
There is a clause in the Virginia law to which parents, guardians and excisors need to take heed. It states that anyone complicit in mutilating a child must worry about the very real possibility that the girl could seek to avenge herself years later, once she realizes the horror inflicted on her. Senator Black explained, “Parents who have this done may end up losing everything they own once a jury hears how they maimed and destroyed their daughter’s life. And the person performing these actions may not only face multiple criminal charges but multiple civil lawsuits that lead to bankruptcy as well. Since both compensatory and punitive damages are allowed under SB 1060, the risks incurred by a child mutilator under this bill are enormous.” It is important to become familiar with the various state laws, and how they can impact yours or the life of someone you know.
Last year following the FBI arrests in Michigan, the lawmakers of that state wasted no time in passing a law against FGM. The Michigan law included a clause which applies to physicians who perform the procedure and to parents or guardians who transport a child to undergo FGM. The legislation then went before the House of Representatives of Michigan for approval, and was unanimously passed. At the signing of the Bill into law, Michigan Governor Snyder said, “Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and these bills stiffen the penalties for offenders while providing additional support to victims.” Also included in the Michigan law is an article that allows for a health professional’s license or registration to be revoked if he or she is convicted of female genital mutilation. On October 1, 2017, Michigan became the 26th state to ban the practice of FGM.
Beware that the Federal law in the United States says that “whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or the labia minora or 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. Government opposes FGM, no matter the type, degree, or severity, and no matter what the motivation for performing it. The U.S. Government understands that FGM may be carried out in accordance with traditional beliefs and as part of adulthood initiation rites. Nevertheless, the U.S. Government considers FGM to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. If you live in the U.S., you need to become familiar with the federal and state laws concerning FGM.
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