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U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), a long-time advocate for women’s rights issues, sponsored the Girls Protection Act of 2010 April 26 after receiving disturbing reports from New York-based women’s shelters, claiming FGM victims have recently visited or anonymously reported FGM cases.
If passed, the bill would outlaw sending girls overseas from the United States for FGM rituals, punishing violators with fines and up to five years in prison.
“We’re closing a loophole,” Crowley said. “Some families in our district are taking their daughters over to their homeland to have this ritual performed. If we can prevent just one girl from going through this, I think it’s worth enacting into federal law
Women’s rights advocates are alarmed at an increasing number of female genital mutilation cases happening to women in Queens.
Some call it hygienic, others call it barbaric — but officials said a rising number of underage girls in New York, including Queens communities, are becoming victims of FGM, or what some call “female circumcision.”
“Wherever you have FGM-practicing immigrant populations, people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eretria and West African countries like Senegal, the girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM,” said Lakshmi Anantnarayan, communications director for Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization. “If those populations exist in Queens, the risk of their daughters being brought home during summer vacations or having operations done at their homes is very high.”
The practice of FGM involves cutting off part or all of a girl’s external sex organs, including the clitoris and labia. In the most extreme cases, a girl’s vagina can be sewn shut through a process known as “infibulation,” according to the World Health Organization.
The practice is said to be common among some immigrants from certain regions in Africa and the Middle East, who subject their underage daughters to it to ensure they remain virgins until marriage, making them more desirable to potential husbands. Anantnarayan said in some cases FGM is used to deliberately destroy a woman’s ability to enjoy sex to discourage promiscuity.
“It’s the control of women’s sexuality for the most part, to preserve the woman’s virginity until marriage,” she said. “They also say it’s a cultural practice to make the girl more acceptable in the community so she can be married.”
Some cultures consider FGM to be hygienic, similar to male circumcision, even though most health organizations, including the Center for Disease Control and the WHO, said it has serious consequences for a woman’s overall and reproductive health.
“The urethra is affected in women, especially African women, who have a tendency to keloid,” said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now. “There can be serious consequences around the urethra because of infection or a number of other reasons.”
Bien-Aime said FGM causes constant vaginal pain that can last a lifetime and in some cases create extreme complications for women during pregnancy. FGM also causes problems during a woman’s monthly period.
Federal lawmakers outlawed practicing FGM in the United States in 1996, but Equality Now and other groups claim U.S. immigrants are sending girls abroad to have the procedure done.
Since FGM is so taboo in the United States, documented instances are rare, although in recent years prominent reports of it occurred in Georgia — with one occurring last year.
Reach Reporter Chauncey Alcorn by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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