June 30, 2010
The New York Times
Advocates have been fighting to end female genital mutilation across Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, marking progress one village at a time. The battleground extends to immigrant communities in the developed world, which still value this horrifying ritual.
Female genital mutilation has been banned in the United States since 1996. Representatives Joseph Crowley of New York and Mary Bono Mack of California are now sponsoring legislation that would make it a felony to take a girl out of the country to have the procedure, punishing violators with fines and a five-year prison term. Supporters hope the law will be a deterrent and embolden more young women or their mothers to resist family or community pressure and defend themselves.
The need for strong resistance was underscored after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that a milder version of mutilation — a nick of a girl’s genitals done in a doctor’s office — should be made legal in the United States as a way to prevent families from taking children abroad for the full brutal procedure. Advocates rightly argued that medicalizing this violence against women would only legitimize it and undermine the force of the ban. The academy has since withdrawn the statement.
Congress should move quickly to pass the Girls Protection Act. More needs to be done. State health authorities should step up education campaigns in immigrant communities. Pediatricians could make it their business to recognize and report the signs of abuse.
Federal officials could ensure that ports of entry like Kennedy International Airport in New York City have informational signs, hot lines and a shelter. An international departure terminal may provide the last chance to save a girl from a lifetime of suffering and early death.