Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of woman’s genital organs. It has been illegal in the United States since 1996. However, this gruesome procedure is still a huge issue. Although it is banned nation-wide, it is still up to individual states to put laws in place to further control and ban the practice of FGM. Many states have passed FGM laws, but 24 states have yet to act, according to the AHA Foundation. Ohio is one of those 24 states, but that is now changing.
Senator Peggy Lehner recently showed her support for the banning of FGM in Ohio with Senate Bill 214, which would make FGM of anyone under 18 a felony. The bill will also make the act of transporting a child to a place that will perform the mutilation, a practice known as “vacation cutting,” a crime as well. Violators could face jail time, plus a fine of up to $25,000.
The bill also states that violators cannot be protected if they claim that the procedure is a cultural or ritual necessity, or if they get consent from the child or her parents.
“It is pretty evident that [FGM] is an extremely painful procedure and it has lifelong effects on young women,” Lehner said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made it clear that FGM has no health benefits and can cause a number of long-term and short-term health problems, including: severe pain, bleeding, shock, cysts and scarring, pain during sex, complications during birth, and a multitude of infections.
There are a few reasons why FGM is practiced, the most popular being that it is a custom or cultural tradition that has been in effect for many generations. In some societies, it is believed that FGM can control a woman’s sexuality.
Women who live in states with high concentrations of immigrants from countries where the practice is prevalent are at a high risk. This includes Ohio because the state houses a large community of Somali immigrants.
Due to the secretive nature of the practice, it is very difficult to determine how many girls have been affected in America. Many citizens are unaware that FGM is even practiced in the states.
“We need much better data [on FGM] in this country. We need to be collecting this and talking about the issue,” said Quast. “It’s very powerful when experts within the community say, ‘No, we are not advocating for this.’”
This year, Texas, Alaska, Maine, and Massachusetts have been tackling FGM-related legislation, and hopefully the other 19 states that do not have laws on FGM will follow.
FGM crosses city lines, race lines, religion lines, and educational backgrounds. The number of girls at risk in America has quadrupled since 1997, proving that FGM is an issue in America. Hopefully the states that do not have laws to stop FGM will follow in the footsteps of those states that do. This will bring America one step closer to ending this global crisis.
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