How to End Female Genital Mutilation--In the U.S. and Around the World

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I was born in Guinea, a beautiful, small country on the West Coast of Africa. Green mountains line the landscape, amid waterfalls and forests full of trees that sway with the Atlantic Ocean breeze. But this beauty belies a horrifying statistic: According to the World Health Organization, more than 96 percent of women in Guinea have been subject to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). And a new report from Sanctuary for Families finds that thousands of girls living in the United States have been subject to FGM, brought by their families to countries like Guinea for "vacation cutting."

As a young girl growing up in Guinea, FGM was viewed as a cultural rite of passage for girls, marked by songs and dances families performed during and after the procedure. It was common to see girls at school sitting out of recess because they had not yet healed. Guinea and many other African countries have recently passed laws that criminalize FGM, but these laws are not fully enforced because FGM is still widely practiced and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.

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Image: © Robin Nelson/ZUMAPRESS.com/

Jaha Dukureh was born in Gambia and subjected to female genital mutilation as an infant. Now living in Atlanta, she is raising awareness of the traumatizing custom that is still performed in her native country. She hopes to have laws passed in the U.S. that would make it illegal to send children back to their family's country of origin to have the procedure done.

At the time, I thought a girl was at risk of being cut only if she was living in a country like Guinea, where human rights are violated daily. But as I discovered through my work with African women and girls as the African Community Specialist at Sanctuary for Families in New York City, FGM could easily happen to a U.S. or European citizen.

Through running support groups for African girls in NYC high schools and conducting community outreach, I started hearing troubling stories. One girl told me when she visited her parent's home country for summer vacation at 8 years old, her grandmother forced her to undergo the procedure. "I will never forget that pain," she said. Another girl drew the shape of the tool that was used to perform the cutting, also recalling the pain she endured. She continues having flashbacks and nightmares about what happened that day.  And another girl recounted how she escaped from FGM and ran to the US Embassy after her father took her to his home country for what was promised to be a summer vacation.

It's hard to believe, but while the U.S. has long criminalized FGM on U.S. soil, there was no legal protection for girls who were transported abroad for this purpose until this year.  The Girls Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law in January, finally closed the gap.  While we must continue to enforce this new law, it is a very encouraging step.

It is critical that we continue to educate professionals working with girls at risk and girls who have already been subject to FGM so they recognize the crime.  Professionals must report FGM cases exactly the same way they are mandated to report any other type of child abuse. We also need to educate families from communities that believe in and practice FGM so they not only learn the negative effects of the practice, but also the existence of this new law.

I am very proud of being an Africa woman and the steps the U.S. has taken to protect girls. But I will be even prouder if, one day, I can say that FGM is no longer a part of my culture so that no girls or woman will be subjected to this horrible practice simply due to their gender.

 

Sanctuary for Families is the leading nonprofit agency in New York State dedicated exclusively to serving domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims, and their children

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