Female Genital Mutilation in U.S. Up More than 200 Percent Since 1990

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY HELEN VESPERINI A woman gestures as she takes part with other young women and men in a discussion on female genital mutilation (FGM) at an after school program for children's rights at Sheikh Nuur primary school in Hargeysa on February 19, 2014.
Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that number of women and girls in the United States who are “at risk of or may have been subjected” to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) has increased three-fold over the past decades,” however the crime is rarely investigated or prosecuted, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The government attributes the growing incidents of this brutal practice in the U.S. to increased immigration from countries — largely in Africa and the Middle East — where FGM/C is practiced.

According to recent estimates, in 2012, 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. were subjected to or at risk of FGM/C, vastly higher than the 168,000 estimated in 1990.

In a report publicly released Monday, the GAO examined the federal response to the domestic practice of FGM/C, determining that while the crime of FGM/C is growing in the U.S. it has inspired few actual investigations.

“There have been few FGM/C-related investigations or prosecutions. Law enforcement and child protection officials we spoke with said this may be due, in part, to instances not being reported,” GAO reported.

GAO concluded that, while there are some efforts to educate immigrants about the prohibition of FGM/C in the U.S., the information dissemination is not widespread and “gaps exist.” Currently, the State Department provides “fact sheets” just to certain types of immigrants from countries where FGM/C is practiced, immigrants from those counties who come to the U.S. on temporary visas, however, do not receive the “fact sheets.”

“In addition, State does not directly provide the fact sheet to visa recipients who are nationals of countries where FGM/C is common, but apply at posts in other countries,” GAO reported. “Visa recipients who do not directly receive the fact sheet may be unaware of the health and U.S. legal consequences of FGM/C.”

Stakeholder groups have also played a role in discouraging immigrants against FGM/C. GAO cautioned, however, that federal agencies involved in working with such groups on the issue “lack documented plans for future efforts” and therefore might not be entirely sound, without additional controls and oversight.

Additionally, GAO highlighted that immigration protections are available in the U.S. to women victimized by the practice — including asylum, withholding of removal, refugee resettlement, or “U” nonimmigrant visas.

“GAO recommends that State provide information to additional visa recipients and that each federal agency document its domestic FGM/C awareness efforts,” the oversight body explained. “The agencies generally agreed with the recommendations; however, State disagreed with documenting its awareness efforts, noting that it is not responsible for domestic outreach and education. GAO maintains that the recommendation is valid as discussed in the report.”


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