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Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is a practice that is considered by many to be a human rights abuse. In this article, we’ll define the term “female genital mutilation” and review the United States’ stance on it.

Key Takeaways

  • Female genital mutilation is any injury to the female genital organs for reasons that are not medical
  • Female genital mutilation has no medical benefit and carries many risks including infections, infertility, and death
  • There are four types of female genital mutilation defined by the extent of the injury done to the genitals
  • Female genital mutilation is condemned by the World Health Organization as a human rights violation 
  • Female genital mutilation is illegal in the United States and punishable by up to five years in prison

What Is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female genital mutilation, or FGM for short, is a category that includes all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia - or another injury to the female genital organs - for reasons that are not medical. While traditional in certain cultures, this practice has no health benefits and can harm the victim leading to issues including:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Problems urinating
  • Cysts
  • Infections
  • Complications in childbirth
  • Increased risk of newborn death
  • Death
  • Fear and distress
  • Fistula
  • Infertility
  • Painful menstruation
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection

FGM is recognized internationally as a human rights violation rooted in misogyny and discrimination against girls and women. The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly condemns FGM and asks healthcare providers not to perform it. 

Types of Female Genital Mutilation

There are four types of female genital mutilation:

  • Type 1 - Total removal of the clitoral glans and/or the clitoral hood
  • Type 2 - Partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora, with or without removal of the labia majora
  • Type 3 - The narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or majora through stitching. This may or may not include the removal of the clitoral hood and glans. It is also called infibulation.
  • Type 4 - All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia done for non-medical purposes including piercing, pricking, scraping, incising, and cauterizing

Female Genital Mutilation and Sexual Assault Law

The United States government opposed FGM no matter the type, degree, severity, or motivation, agreeing with WHO that it is a human rights abuse and a form of child abuse and gender-based violence. 

According to Federal law 18 U.S. Code § 116 ‘Female Genital Mutilation’, as amended by the STOP FGM Act 2020, it is against United States federal law to perform FGM on a girl under the age of 18 or to send or attempt to send a girl outside the United States so FGM can be performed on her. This offense is punishable by up to five years in prison, fines, or both. This crime includes cutting and any other procedures that injure the female genital organs.

If somebody you know has been a victim of female genital mutilation and would like to pursue legal action against the offender, it is recommended that you consult with a lawyer experienced in these types of cases to learn about next steps.

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