Female Genital Mutilation: Five Lessons U.S. Lawmakers Can Learn from Europe

TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Indonesia-religion-Islam-health-women-rights,FEATURE' by Arlina Arshad This picture taken on February 10, 2013 shows Indonesian mother Desi (L) and midwifes congratulating four and half year-old Kania (C) after she was circumcised in Bandung. The Indonesian government has come under fire after the UN General Assembly in November …
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While the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice common in some Muslim-majority and African countries, has only recently been thrust into the American sphere, there has been debate over the practice in the UK for decades.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Tuesday that an anti-FGM law was unconstitutional and Congress had no authority to enact a law that criminalises the practice, allegedly performed to dull the sexual urges of women, dismissing the case against Dr Nagarwala, according to The Detroit News.

Prosecutors alleged that Dr Jumana Nagarwala, a member of Detroit’s Indian-Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, conducted female genital mutilation (FGM) on more than 100 girls in Detroit, Michigan, over a span of 12 years in a conspiracy involving seven other people.

“As despicable as [FGM] may be… [Congress] overstepped its bounds” by banning the abuse, the U.S. district judge said.

Breitbart News reported Tuesday that Judge Friedman’s decision may end the Detroit trial as the defendants cannot be charged in Detroit because the state’s anti-FGM law was passed after the group had been arrested. (Four of the accused still face federal conspiracy and obstructions charges that could see them behind bars for decades if convicted when the case goes to trial next April, according to the Detroit Free Press.)

European countries have been battling with the imported problem of FGM for decades, with varying degrees of success. Britain’s failures may present a window into the pitfalls lawmakers may face until a robust, American, response to the abuse is taken:

1) Passing an anti-FGM law is only half the battle.

Britain outlawed FGM in 1985, with new laws and requirements strengthening that legislation in 2003 and 2015. Yet there has never been a single successful prosecution.

While some doctors have been struck off the medical register for advising on or performing the procedure — banning them from practising as medical professionals — not one single case was brought to trial in the UK until 2015. However, the trial collapsed and the doctor involved was acquitted.

The second ever prosecution — against a father accused or arranging his daughter’s genitals to be cut — collapsed in March 2018.

Official figures by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) revealed that last year there were 4,495 new cases of FGM in the preceding 12 months — the equivalent of one girl cut every two hours, 24 hours a day for a whole year.

Those victims represent only one part of the total of 28,326 cases recorded in just three years since law required medical professionals report FGM to the police when they encountered patients who had been mutilated.

Still, that is only a fraction of estimate 137,000 women and child victims believed to be in England overall. One-third of the victims were born in Somalia, according to NHS data.

Despite Dr Nagarwal’s case being the first, it will likely not be the last in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk of or have been subjected to FGM.

2) Do not underestimate the power of Political Correctness.

While the Department of Justice has said that it is “committed” to stopping FGM in the U.S., British police have provided mixed messages over what is more important: protecting children or avoiding offence.

Breitbart London reported in 2017 that West Midlands Police said that prosecuting FGM was not a priority for the force as it was “unlikely to benefit the child,” saying their focus was “educating and safeguarding vulnerable girls.”

Police prioritising community outreach over prosecution has also become a target for Britain’s largest police force, London’s Metropolitan Police. In July 2018, FGM lead Inspector Allen Davis stressed the importance of “having conversations” with the immigrant community for whom “community ties” and practices are paramount.

While British police have appeared to take a soft approach to community relations, Surrey Police did not hesitate to threaten the public over “Islamophobic” tweets on Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day in February.

Surrey Police told Breitbart London that no arrests of those suspected of facilitating or committing FGM were made on Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day — but had said that “Islamophobic” tweets were passed onto their “intelligence teams” for investigation.

3) European — and American — Islamic clerics have defended FGM.

The strongest voices in favour of female genital mutilation will often come from those whose voices carry the most weight in the ‘community.’

In February, Breitbart London reported that the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS) had defended FGM, saying that it is justified under Islamic law — despite the practice being illegal in Switzerland since 2012.

Ali Selim, a spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, also said that FGM was permissible in Islam because of a saying by the Muslim prophet Mohammed, and claimed that “female circumcision” was different and acceptable. FGM has also been illegal in the Republic of Ireland for 12 years.

In the United States, an imam at a Virginia mosque reportedly said that FGM prevents “hypersexuality” in women, and unless she is “circumcised,” a woman is not “satisfied with one person or two or three.”

4) What do you do when girls are taken abroad for mutilation?

The CDC advises that while victims are being cut in the U.S., victims are also sent abroad for the procedure.

In the UK, parents taking their daughters back to their countries of origin to have their genitals cut during the school summer holidays has become known as “cutting season.”

In the case of Britain, 86 per cent of FGM cases where the details are known were undertaken in an African country, with young girls frequently taken abroad during school vacation for a “holiday” by relatives to be cut.

British law was extended in 2005 to include the crime of FGM beyond just those who undertake the cutting, to those who facilitate it — including people who take women and girls abroad to be mutilated.

Breitbart London reported in July that as many schools broke up for summer holidays that police forces were taking to Twitter to warn against holidays that are not “what it seems”, and patrolled airports to talk to members of the public to “raise awareness” about FGM.

This year was unique, however, in the UK and U.S. as police and border officers coordinated in joint operations at New York City’s JFK Airport and airports across Britain in September, targeting families on return flights from countries where the abuse is prevalent and looking for warning signs — including girls having trouble walking or standing.

Operation Limelight USA (based on Britain’s Operation Limelight) launched their own programme in June to aid children at risk of FGM at Newark Airport, following on from a pilot programme initiated at JFK International Airport in 2017.

5) Can the USA learn from France?

While the lessons of Europe point to struggles with cultural influencers, Politically Correct police, and toothless legal systems, there exists one ‘success story’: France.

France introduced an anti-FGM law in 1983 with the threat of 10 years in prison, or up to 20 years for cutting a girl under the age of 15, and with parents considered accomplices to the crime.

Hundreds of parents and “cutters” have been jailed.

“At first the African communities didn’t want parents prosecuted, but it’s against the law and the law is the same for all,” French lawyer Linda Weil-Curiel told The Guardian in 2014. “We explain to doctors the importance of examining all children. In that way they can check not just for FGM but for sexual abuse.”

Dr Emmanuelle Piet, a physician who works in the heavily-migrant populated Seine-Saint-Denis region, says that the does not “give a damn about cultural sensibilities. It’s more important to prevent a violent crime being committed against a child or woman.

“People talk of culture and tradition, but children have a fundamental human right not to be mutilated,” he added.

Due to France’s hardline approach, both Dr Piet and Ms Weil-Curiel told the newspaper that the number of cases they have come across had decreased significantly.

However, despite the hundreds of convictions, there are believed to be 60,000 women in France who have been subjected to the practice.

For more information about FGM, please visit the Desert Flower Foundation here.

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