The New York Times does not use the term “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) in its article about a Michigan doctor who is being prosecuted for allegedly performing that procedure on two seven-year-old girls. The Times calls the offense, “genital cutting,” despite the fact that the prosecution is based on a federal criminal provision entitled, “Female genital mutilation.”
If convicted, the doctor can be sentenced to incarceration for up to five years.
According to Celia Dugger, the Times’ Health and Science editor, “genital cutting” is a “less culturally loaded” term than “FGM.” It will not widen the “chasm” between “advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite.”
For reasons that are inexplicable to me, Dugger seems to think that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion on whether it is right to mutilate the genitals of a seven-year-old girl.
Also, her euphemism, “genital cutting,” makes FGM sound less horrific, which is a disservice to the victims and to the people who are trying to stop the practice.
Political correctness serves a valid purpose when it prevents a person from unnecessarily or unintentionally offending others, but I do not understand why we should be sensitive to the feelings of people who subject seven-year-old girls to genital mutilation.
What is FGM?
The World Health Organization classifies FGM into four major types:
Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
FGM is recognized internationally as a human rights violation. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and it constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. Also, because it usually is performed on minors, it is a violation of the rights of children.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a girl or woman who has a well-founded fear of being subjected to FGM may qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
The Board of Immigration Appeals reached the same conclusion in “Matter of Kasinga,” observing, among other things, that subjective “punitive” or “malignant” intent is not required for harm to constitute persecution. This means that FGM is still persecution even if it was performed with the intention of helping the girl being subjected to it.
How widespread is this practice?
The World Health Organization’s FGM fact sheet states that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM in 30 different countries. It usually is performed on young girls between infancy and age 15.
But it has spread to Europe and other parts of the world too. The European Commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of women living in Europe have been subjected to FGM and thousands more are at risk.
The Center for Disease Control published a report in 2016 estimating that 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or may have been subjected to FGM in 2012. This represents approximately a threefold increase from its prior estimate of 168,000, which was based on 1990 data. The increase is attributed to a sharp rise in immigration from countries where FGM is practiced.
The estimate probably is too low. It does not include countries where FGM is practiced but for which there is no FGM information. It does not include FGM data regarding undocumented immigrants either. No one knows how many undocumented immigrants came from countries where FGM is practiced.
Reasons used to justify FGM:
In some communities, FGM almost universally is performed and is unquestioned. It often is claimed to be a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. It is supposed to foster premarital virginity and marital fidelity, and thus increases marriageability.
FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, such as the belief that removal of body parts that are considered unclean makes girls clean and beautiful. In most societies where FGM is practiced, it is considered a cultural tradition.
According to GAO, there have been few FGM investigations or prosecutions. Law enforcement and child protection officials told GAO that this may be due, in part, to the fact that incidents are not being reported.
The prosecution of the Michigan doctor may be the first one.
The situation is no better in the United Kingdom. Medical staff working in England’s National Health Service recorded approximately 5,500 FGM cases in 2016, but no one has been successfully prosecuted for performing FGM since the practice was banned more than 30 years ago.
This has to change. It does not help to make FGM a felony offense if offenders are not going to be prosecuted. And the use of euphemisms like “genital cutting” that make FGM sound less horrific than it is, is yet another affront to the young girls and women who are forced to undergo the procedure.
Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing and Collaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has been in private practice as an immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.