A woman from Houston, Texas (USA) has been charged under federal United States’ law for transporting a minor out of the country for the purpose of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is investigating this case, the 39-year-old woman allegedly transported the child sometime between July 10 to October 14, 2016.
This is the first time that the US Department of Justice has indicted anyone under this specific clause of the US anti-FGM/C law, i.e, transporting a minor girl outside of US borders to facilitate the practice of genital cutting. While FGM/C has been illegal in the United States since 1996, this clause was introduced in 2013.
The FBI is investigating the case with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, a government agency that works to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the US.
While further details about this case are awaited, it is important to note that the Houston woman has not been charged under the new federal anti-FGM/C law that was signed by the US President on January 5. Since the alleged crime took place in 2016, she has been charged under section 116(d) of the older federal law against FGM/C.
The older federal law has been the subject of controversy since April 2017, when two Michigan doctors and six other members of the Dawoodi Bohra community became the first people to be prosecuted for performing/facilitating FGM/C on at least nine minor girls in the Michigan area. In November 2018, even though a US District Court judge acknowledged that FGM/C was a “despicable” practice, he ruled that the federal law prohibiting it was unconstitutional.
This ruling was based on a technicality: the judge stated that FGM/C is considered a “local criminal activity” to be looked into at the state level rather than the federal or national level. The ruling triggered a controversy because it placed girls in the US at the risk of being cut. Only 39 out of 50 US states currently have laws prohibiting FGM/C, allowing room for girls to be transported across state borders to be subjected to the practice.
The new “Stop FGM Act of 2020”, signed by the government this month, closes this loophole and allows federal authorities to prosecute people suspected of carrying out FGC anywhere in the country.
We at Sahiyo have been advocating for a complete end to the harmful practice of Female Genital Cutting, also known as Khatna or Khafz in the Dawoodi Bohra community, since 2015. FGC is a violation of the rights and bodily integrity of women and girls, and can have long-term physical, psychological and sexual consequences for them.
In light of this indictment of the Houston woman, we strongly urge members of all FGC-practicing communities to completely abandon this age-old ritual, not just because it is illegal in the US and several other countries, but because it is harmful, patriarchal, medically unnecessary, and detrimental to the well-being of girls and women.
At the same time, we also urge all global media publications to report on this case — and on the subject of FGC — with sensitivity and nuance. We request the media to refrain from vilifying specific communities, or using terms such as “barbaric” or “mutilation” that might trigger a survivor’s trauma. To learn more, check out Sahiyo’s Guide: A Resource Guide To Best Practice For Sensitive and Effective Reporting on FGM/C.
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