A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds a fourfold increase in the risk of genital mutilation among girls less than 18 years of age in the United States – and a threefold increase in other girls and women in the U.S. – due to the rise in immigrants from countries where the ritual is practiced.
“The increase resulted from the fact that the U.S. population originating from FGM/C [female genital mutilation and cutting] countries has risen sharply in recent decades,” observed the study, published online in the March/April edition of Public Health Reports.
The study’s researchers continued:
The estimated increase was wholly a result of rapid growth in the number of immigrants from FGM/C-practicing countries living in the United States and not from increases in FGM/C prevalence in those countries. Scientifically valid information regarding whether women or their daughters have actually undergone FGM/C and related information that can contribute to efforts to prevent the practice in the United States and provide needed health services to women who have undergone FGM/C are needed.
The sharp rise in the risk means more than half a million women and girls in the U.S. could be affected – those who were born or have a parent born in a nation in which genital mutilation is a common practice.
Female genital mutilation – the removal of the external genitalia – is a tradition mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15 in many African nations, in southern Asia, and in the Middle East. Women and girls in the U.S. with families originating from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia are most often found to be at risk.
The ancient practice, which has been illegal in the United States for 20 years, causes many serious health problems that can lead to death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM/C can cause “severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”
WHO adds that “more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.”
In a practice known as “vacation cutting,” some immigrants in the U.S. send their young daughters back to their countries of origin to undergo the mutilation practice, the study observed.
The CDC states the number of females in the U.S. who have undergone the often secretive practice is not known due to unreliable data. The current study used data from 2012 – the most recent year for which it was available – and concluded that 513,000 females were at risk in that year, a threefold increase from the 168,000 at risk the last time the CDC counted in 1990.
“This shows it’s not just something that happens ‘over there’ but it’s something that happens in this country,” said Shelby Quast, American director for Equality Now, a group that works to end the practice, reports Reuters. “These girls are as American as any other girls, yet they’re facing something very, very life-altering.”