Female Genital Mutilation: Are Human Rights a Partisan Issue?

Editor’s note: The following contains some unpleasant details in the opening definition of a barbaric practice.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to the genital “circumcision” performed on young girls (generally 7-9 years of age) and can include the mutilation of a girl’s clitoris or labia, and in some cases, her vagina being sewn nearly shut. FGM is illegal in 18 African Nations and 12 industrialized countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States. In spite of its being a U.S. federal crime, a 2012 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report states that in the U.S., 500,000 girls are at risk for FGM. Additionally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) noted that since 2003, there have been 380 arrested and 785 deported for FGM and related human rights violations. This includes the recent deportation of Ethiopian national Khalid Adem, who cut his two-year-old daughter’s genitals with scissors and served 10 years in a U.S. prison before being deported by ICE in March of this year.

Some claim that FGM is merely “cultural” and was a pagan “ritual practice” that preceded both Christianity and Islam. But these claims fail to recognize that in modern times FGM is practiced most widely as a Muslim ritual, considered “obligatory” for females, and is advocated under Islamic Law known as the “Sharia.” It shows dominance of men over women and prevents the woman from bringing “dishonor” to the family through promiscuous behavior, while also proving her “purity” for a future marriage.

This surgery renders the girl to have no sexual pleasure, and makes married intercourse and childbirth both painful and dangerous. Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, notesthat complications include “bleeding, painful urination, cysts, dangerous and recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections and the growth of scar tissue” as well as the development of fistulas and the risk of becoming both incontinent and losing bowel control. FGM is most often accomplished with razor blades and without anesthesia and has lifelong psychological and physiological side-effects.

This year, Representative Heather Sirocki of the Maine legislature proposed a bill to further criminalize the brutal FGM of minors. While FGM is a federal U.S. crime, Sirocki’s bill would have made it a state crime, allowing prosecution on a state level.

The 10,000 Somali refugees residing in Maine have transformed the state into a high-risk area for FGM. As a background, Somalia adopted Sharia law (and thus the “obligation” of female circumcision) as the “law of the land” in 2009, and the Sharia-adherent Somali refugees see FGM, though an international human rights violation, as obligatory.

However, the bill failed in June. Who could be against this and why?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the bill, claiming that the establishment of new felony penalties to be “redundant” to the existing criminal code. Representative Sirocki disagrees. “Federal prosecutors take a very small amount of cases. The state of Maine deals with thousands of cases. … If the federal government doesn’t have enough prosecutors, [an FGM case] doesn’t get prosecuted.”

According to one source, Maine Democrats also opposed the bill because they claimed that Republicans always block their bills and they are returning the favor. One Democrat representative said she would propose the bill next year so that the Democrats could receive the credit for being protectors of children. Is partisan war necessary when the lives, safety and the psychological future of young girls are at stake?

The ACLU also claimed that the bill was an “attempt to single out behavior that is commonly attributed to certain religious and ethnic communities.” Refugee aid organizations feared that the law would “offend” the Somali population. Yet would we say that breaking up criminal communities like gangs and drug cartels “offends” them and “infringes on their culture?” If the laws of our country, rooted in human dignity and gender equity offend a people group, they are under no compulsion to stay.

The ACLU also stated support for an amended version of the bill that would “establish a community-based education and outreach program to prevent the genital mutilation of a minor,” which they claim to be part of “evidence-based solutions.” This appears to be naïve. In April of this year, two Muslim doctors and the wife of one of the doctors were arrested on three federal counts including aiding and abetting female genital mutilation. According to Newsweek, the prosecutor estimated the doctors genitally mutilated more than 100 girls. They did not perform FGM because they lacked access to “educational, evidence-based programs.” Rather, as Sharia-adherent Muslims, they served a Sharia-adherent Muslim community.

We must realize that just because certain Sharia-adherent Muslim countries permit this form of barbarous child abuse does not mean that our country should tolerate, accept or feel guilty about providing harsher punishments for it. We are a nation of laws and of human dignity. Far from being a partisan issue, or an issue of cultural “hatred,” Female Genital Mutilation is an issue of human rights. If we cannot offer greater legal protections on the state level for vulnerable little girls, or worse, it we are afraid to do so out of “partisanship,” we are to be pitied as a nation devoid of conscience.

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