Bebeto Matthews/AP
Attorney Dennis LaRochelle, left, comforts his client Adelaide Abankwah after she becomes
emotional answering questions about female genital mutilation during a 1999 press conference
in New York. Abankwah left her native Ghana for fear of having her genitals mutilated as
punishment for premarital sex.

US Slow to Prevent Female Genital Mutilation

March 27, 2009 01:00 PM
by Kate Davey
Female Genital Mutilation is considered a traditional transition into adulthood by some cultures; federal law prohibits the practice, but little has been done to enforce it.

Female Genital Mutilation in the United States

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Circumcision (FGC), is commonly practiced in Africa, where it is considered to be a cultural transition for girls into adulthood. FGM is practiced by immigrants in the United States, who consider it part of their culture and a family obligation. However, the practice is illegal in the U.S. for girls younger than 18.

The National Women’s Health Information Center reports that preventing minors from undergoing FGM is hampered by problems “with cultural adaptation, immigration status, economic issues, isolation and access to education and healthcare services for populations who have undergone FGC or who are at risk for FGC.”

It is also unlikely that a girl or woman experiencing complications from undergoing FGM will receive health care “because the fear of legal repercussions would be too strong.”

According to New York City-based publication the Gotham Gazette, even when a girl or young woman does seek health care, there is little support available from the government. Although FGM is illegal under federal U.S. law, only 17 states (including New York) “have passed legislation criminalizing the practice of FGC on minors.”  New York legislation also requires that educational outreach concerning the health effects of FGM is offered to immigrant groups who practice FGM. Yet little has been done on a city, state or federal level, the article reports.

Meanwhile, other countries are making an effort to confront this difficult issue.  Ireland is considering a law that would ban FGM and the British National Health Service will start advertising free operations to reverse FGM procedures. In Britain, girls as young as five have been reported as having had to go through FGM.

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Related Topic: Immigrant sells daughter for beer in California

Culture and law frequently come into conflict in nations with large immigrant populations. For example, Marcelino de Jesus Martinez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in Greenfield, Calif., was arrested in January in connection with allegedly selling his 14-year-old daughter to an 18-year-old neighbor for $16,000 in cash, beer, Gatorade, wine and meat. Martinez is a member of the Mexican Trique community: arranged marriages are part of the community’s tradition and the prospective bride’s permission must be obtained.

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