Equality Now And Sanctuary For Families Applaud Strengthening Of U.S. Federal Law Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation

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Girls In U.S. At Risk Of Female Genital Mutilation Will Be Further Protected With Extraterritoriality Amendment

27 April 2010

Contacts: Wendy Conn, Equality Now, +1 212 586 0906, wconn@equalitynow.org
Lisa Mueller, Sanctuary for Families, +1 212 349 6009 x274, lmueller@sffny.org

New York, NY, April 27, 2010 - Equality Now, an international human rights organization, and Sanctuary for Families, an organization working with victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, welcome the amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) that strengthens the 1996 federal law prohibiting the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). The Crowley-Bono Mack extraterritoriality amendment or “vacation provision” would prohibit the act of removing a girl from this country to subject her to FGM.

FGM is a centuries-old, harmful, traditional practice that affects an estimated 140 million women and girls around the world causing lifelong physical and psychological harm. This practice that involves the removal of various parts of female genitalia is carried out across Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, as well as in locations where FGM-practicing immigrants reside, including the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated in 1997 that over 168,000 girls and women living in the U.S. have either been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM.

In many African countries where this harmful cultural practice is carried out, vibrant anti-FGM movements are making remarkable headway toward eradicating FGM through awareness-raising, education and advocacy within their communities. In addition, several European countries with immigrant populations from FGM-practicing communities have recognized the importance of addressing this form of gender-based violence and discrimination by enacting strong laws and policies to protect girls from FGM in all its forms. African activists working on the ground to end FGM have welcomed laws with “vacation provisions” that can protect girls from FGM, which mostly occurs during their school vacations when they are taken out of their country of residence for these purposes.

Prior to the Crowley-Bono Mack amendment, the United States, unfortunately, has been slower to act. In 1996, when the federal law criminalizing FGM was enacted, there was considerable public dialogue about preventative, rehabilitative and supportive measures needed to eradicate this practice. The issue has since lost momentum and the impact of the 1996 law has not been fully realized. In addition, while the 1996 law prohibited the performance of FGM within the U.S., it did not address the common situation where girls are taken to their parents’ countries of origin to be subjected to FGM.

The Crowley-Bono Mack extraterritoriality amendment to this law addresses this loophole and aims to close it. Equality Now Executive Director, Taina Bien-Aimé, says “With this amendment, the United States is taking a critical step toward reaffirming that FGM, in all its forms, is a human rights violation. There is a critical need to protect girls who suffer from the practice because of their low status in society.” She continues, “We hope that the Crowley-Bono Mack amendment will generate renewed interest from the medical, social services and other authorities to protect girls, often US-born, from FGM.”

Adds Archana Pyati, Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families: “FGM is a very real threat to the safety and health of girls and young women living in this country. The practice is an unacceptable expression of discrimination against women no matter where it occurs, and we congratulate Representatives Crowley and Bono Mack for their initiative.”

Sanctuary for Families is the leading nonprofit in New York State dedicated to working exclusively with victims of domestic violence, victims of sex trafficking, and their children. For more information about Sanctuary's work, visit www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org.

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April 27, 2010 - 12:15