Female Genital Mutilation in U.S. sparks warnings

The summer season is described as the ‘cutting season’ in the United States

Paul Crompton
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Female Genital Mutilation may be rampant among some immigrant communities in the United States, activists have warned, but experts say the ritual may not be as common as is thought.

A report issued in early 2013 said the females in in the United States “face a very real and imminent danger” of having the procedure performed on them, although mostly cites “anecdotal evidence” regarding the procedures taking place on American soil.

The report also blamed community members, social-service providers and law-enforcement bodies, and even some U.S. health care providers, whom sometimes “do not want to question their patients’ cultural practices” and will perform a limited version of the procedure involving small incisions in the clitoral hood.

However, a shortage of data remains a key challenge in measuring the problem.

One study on FGM in the United States, which was authored 15 years ago, estimated that close to 230,000 young women were at risk of the practice in the country every year.

While updated statistics on the increasingly secret practice in the United States could not be found, some say the practice is still taking place although in limited scope.

“An educated guess would be that there are circumcisions or mutilations occurring, but they’re highly exaggerated in number,” said Randa Serhan, a political sociologist at the American University in Washington DC.

Daisy Khan, executive director of the non-profit American Society for Muslim Advancement, told Al Arabiya News: “The numbers may be small, but even one case isn’t acceptable to Americans.”

Earlier this month, Jaha Dukureh, a 24-year-old ethnic Gambian who is a victim of FGM, campaigned in Washington in a mission to secure U.S. President Barack Obama’s support - and that of government departments - to commission a report about its prevalence among Americans.

Dukureh’s campaign appears to have garnered popular support. An online petition has so far amassed over 212,000 signatures.

However, “there are all these signatures, but they don’t say who are the signatories or how they were obtained,” said Serhan.

Is Dukureh’s campaign likely to take off? Due to “zero tolerance among the public, we’ll most likely see legislation against it,” said Khan.

Tribal practice

FGM is practiced in many tribal societies in Africa, and in certain, usually rural areas in Arab countries, including Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

Although “no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support,” notes a fact sheet from the World Health Organization.

The practice involves removing and damaging female genital tissue - usually on a young girl - ostensibly in attempts to control her future purity and sexuality.

However, FGM “has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways,” said WHO.

The Muslim Council of Britain – which is comprised of 500 mosques forming its membership - issued a statement last week declaring for the first time that FGM is “un-Islamic,” and “no longer linked to the teaching of Islam” – with one of the “basic principles” of Islam being that followers should not harm themselves or others, London-based daily The Guardian reported.

Despite being outlawed since 1996, and legislation passed last year making the transportation of girls out of the United States for FGM punishable by five years in prison, activists say the practice continues in the same fashion.

The summer months are when many families from ethnic communities send their children back to their homelands for the practice, a time of year that Dukureh describes as “cutting season.”

The activist said FGM frequently occurs on U.S. soil.

“We’ve had calls from girls saying this doesn’t only happen on vacation, we get cut right here in the USA,” she said, according to a recent report by The Daily Beast.

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