Some women say they have no memory
of being cut and don't feel any pain at the incision site. Others end up ravaged
and require special medical procedures just to be able to menstruate or give birth. It all depends on the type of FGM, which experts have classified by the part or parts of the body that get cut
. Cases run the spectrum, from pricking the clitoris
to removing it completely
to sewing up skin around the vagina
Across at least 30 countries,
more than 200 million girls and women
alive today have been subjected to FGM. That equals the entire populations
of France, Germany and Italy, combined. More than half the survivors live in
Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia. The procedure is usually carried out between birth and adolescence by community elders, traditional health practitioners or trained health-care providers
. About 44 million
of the survivors are younger than 15.
Worldwide, more than 3 million girls
are estimated to be at risk every year
of being subjected to the procedure, even though it is outlawed in 42 countries
, including 24 nations in Africa
It has no basis in religion ...
No religious texts require FGM
. Yet some cultures and sects believe the practice makes for better wives
by making girls more acceptable in their communities, thus improving their eligibility for marriage
. The practice aims to reduce a woman's libido to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity, and can be associated with being "feminine," "modest," "clean" and "beautiful."
It's practiced in households at all educational levels and all social classes
and occurs among many religious groups
, including Muslims, Christians and animists. The origins of the practice
are unclear, with historians citing evidence of it in Egyptian mummies and in the fifth century BC
In 13 African countries, more than half of women aged 15 to 49 have undergone the procedure
... and zero health benefits.
Experts across the globe agree that the practice has no medical benefits whatsoever
. Ten global agencies issued a joint statement
in 2008 branding the practice a human rights violation
and calling for its elimination within one generation
Meantime, the health risks
-- including death -- are plentiful.
There is some good news abroad ...
A survey of countries where FGM is common
shows a steady decline
in the percentage of teenagers who have undergone the practice.
And opinions are changing
. A strong majority of women and men in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia
where the procedure is most often practiced think it should be history
... but an alarming rise in the US.
Since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the US who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled
. The increase is due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest
. These girls and women are concentrated in California, New York
US statistics don't distinguish between survivors of the practice and people at risk, though there's an effort underway to change that
Girls and women most at risk in the US come from or have relatives who come from
the African nations of Egypt, Ethiopia
, where three-quarters or more of all girls and women
have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
The feds have taken steps ...
After the US granted asylum
to 17-year-old Fauziya Kassindja, who fled female genital mutilation and a forced marriage in Togo, a federal law was passed in 1996 making it illegal to perform the practice in the US
. The law was amended in 2013 to make it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the US to inflict FGM abroad
But it took more than two decades for the first prosecution to happen. Two Michigan doctors and the wife of one of the doctors were charged in 2017 with performing the banned procedure
on two 7-year-old girls.
... but half the states have no law against it.
Though at-risk girls and women are thought to live in every state
but Hawaii, just 25 states have enacted laws
against female genital mutilation. Prosecution depends on
the age of the victim, who performed the procedure, whether the victim was taken out of the country for FGM, and whether the accused uses cultural reasons as a defense. Punishments include as many as 30 years in prison and fines that top out at $250,000