Equality Now Applauds Congressional Passage of Law Criminalizing Transport of U.S. Girls Abroad for FGM

21 December 2012

Contact:  WASHINGTON, DC:  Shelby Quast, 202-841-5630, squast@equalitynow.org
NEW YORK: Karen Asare, 212-586-0906, media@equalitynow.org

Efforts by Rep. Joseph Crowley, Rep. Mary Bono Mack & Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tighten 1996 Federal Law Banning FGM in the U.S.

Equality Now welcomes today’s successful passage by Congress of the ‘Transport for Female Genital Mutilation’ law as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It has been sent to the President for signature.

Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) have led this effort tirelessly in the House since 2010 to strengthen the 1996 federal law banning female genital mutilation (FGM). In 2011, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the ‘Girls Protection Act’ in the Senate, and it has now passed as section 1092 of the National Defense Authorization Act, ‘Transport for Female Genital Mutilation.’  

While female genital mutilation is illegal when performed in the U.S., the existing federal law banning this harmful practice did not protect girls from being taken outside the U.S. to have FGM performed. The extraterritoriality legislation, or “vacation provision,” prohibits the act of transporting a girl abroad in order to subject her to female genital mutilation. Those found guilty of doing so can now be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.

“We became aware of an increasing number of cases of American girls that had been victims of FGM,” says Faiza Mohamed, an expert in women’s human rights and director at Equality Now. “Largely due to increasing diaspora communities from countries where FGM is practiced, these girls were at particular risk of having FGM performed on them when returning to their parents’ home country, often during school vacation. This amendment has closed the gap in the law and strengthened protections for American girls across the country.”  

Equality Now has been working closely with Senator Reid and Representative Crowley’s offices to close this loophole and wholly embraces this new legislation, which sends a clear message to all that FGM is a criminal act that carries serious consequences. We now call on the U.S. government to ensure that the new legislative amendment is comprehensively implemented and strictly enforced as a matter of urgency.

FGM is a clear violation of the fundamental human rights of girls and fulfils the World Health Organisation definition of child abuse, which includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity.  

It is estimated that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM, which takes place throughout Africa, certain countries in Asia and the Middle East, as well as in locations where FGM-practicing immigrants reside, such as the United States. According to analysis of 2000 U.S. census data conducted by the African Women’s Health Center (AWHC) at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, approximately 228,000 women and girls residing in the U.S. have undergone or are at risk for FGM. The data also states that from 1990 to 2000, the number of women at risk for FGM grew by approximately 35 percent in the U.S.

In addition to strengthening existing legislation, renewed focus on education about FGM is also urgently required.