Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and the time is way overdue to stand up for the voiceless and criminalize this horrific practice. I’m calling on state legislatures around the country, including in my home state of Pennsylvania - one of 22 states that don’t criminalize the practice - to act now.
Female Genital Mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. As substantiated by the World Health Organization, the practice has no medical health benefits whatsoever.
An estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone this horror. In the 25 countries where FGM/C is routinely practiced, an estimated 68 million girls will be mutilated between 2015 and 2030, unless we take concerted and accelerated action. The numbers are sickening and unconscionable.
FGM/C has absolutely no place in America - or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It’s an unconscionable, systematic form of abuse and subjugation perpetuated against the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
We saw this clearly in a recent court case. In 2017, we were shocked, outraged and horrified as federal prosecutors brought charges against Doctors Fakhruddin Attar and Jumana Nagarwala of Livonia, Mich., accused of performing FGM/C on at least nine underage girls, from at least three states, ranging in ages from 8 to 13.
The details of the case were appalling. Two 7 year-old girls, victims of the procedure, shared their stories within the criminal complaint. They were led to Michigan by their mothers, under the auspice of a “special girls' trip.” They were told that they’d undergo “a procedure to get the germs out’” after falling ill with stomachaches. Both also were told, “the procedure is a secret and you’re not supposed to talk about it.”
These children were victimized by the very people who should’ve protected them.
Making matters worse, in the case of Attar and Nararwala, a District Court judge struck down the federal ban on FGM/C in late 2018. He deemed the proposal outside the bounds of congressional jurisdiction. While I recognize the constitutional grounds for the judge’s ruling, we must now create a system that provides justice for these – and all - victims.
I’m offering three bipartisan-supported proposals in the House of Representatives that work within federal government’s jurisdiction to combat FGM/C: 1) a resolution to condemn FGM/C and call upon the international community to stop it; 2) legislation to criminalize crossing state lines for the purpose of FGM/C. Of the nine known victims in the Michigan case, a majority were brought across state lines - all by their mothers; 3) a bill to open up federal grants to assist survivors of FGM/C.
As our society becomes more transient and diverse, it’ll take a coordinated effort to end this reprehensible, subjugating atrocity in the United States and around the world. I look forward to working with the Pennsylvania General Assembly, my colleagues in the Congress, and our partners across the world to accomplish this goal.
Perry represents Pennsylvania's 10th District.