The ‘Unconstitutional’ Federal Law to Protect Girls from Female Genital Mutilation Can Be Fixed

Judge’s Recent Ruling Leaves Women and Girls in 23 States at Grave Risk, But the Senate Can Act on the House’s SAFE Act

 WASHINGTON, D.C.—Advocates for the more than a half million girls and woman in the U.S. who are at risk for female genital mutilation (FGM) were saddened but also moved to further action when a district judge recently ruled that the federal anti-FGM law is unconstitutional.

Now, says the national EndFGMToday campaign, America’s elected leadership can remedy the law to protect those at risk in all 50 states. At particular risk are females in the 23 states that currently do not have their own prohibitions against FGM.

On Nov. 20, District Judge Bernard Friedman of Detroit found the federal statute prohibiting FGM to be unconstitutional, “thereby dismissing the key charges against two Michigan doctors and six others accused of subjecting at least nine minor girls to the cutting procedure in the nation’s first FGM case,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

Elizabeth Yore, an internationally renowned attorney and activist specializing in human rights and child welfare advocacy who heads EndFGMToday, called in particular on the women of the U.S. Senate to move immediately to join the House of Representatives in approving H.R. 3317—the Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act—with an amendment that will make the existing statutory prohibition of FGM (USC Title 18, Section 116) constitutional.

“Judge Friedman’s ruling marks a serious setback for the rights and protection of our most innocent and vulnerable victims,” Yore said. “Even worse, the ruling certainly will embolden others to engage in this horrific form of abuse of women and girls in America. In the absence of a federal FGM ban, the astounding lack of state-level FGM prohibitions in 23 states means that girls often as young as 7 years old can be maimed for life. It is naïve and negligent to expect that it won’t happen.”

Yore added that the problem with the 1996 federal statute can be readily fixed in the present congressional lame-duck session by amending it explicitly to cite the interstate commerce basis on which the federal government can constitutionally act to regulate or prohibit activities like female genital mutilation.

“Luckily, a vehicle for doing so is at hand,” Yore said. “The House of Representatives last December unanimously approved the SAFE Act, which increases the sentence for FGM under the law Judge Friedman struck down from five to 15 years in prison. It awaits action by the Senate and could be taken up immediately with an amendment to correct the statute’s technical defect and make it constitutional.

“To the women of the Senate in particular, your leadership is vital to protecting women and girls across the United States from the barbaric crime of female genital mutilation,” she added.

Yore also noted that female genital mutilation is recognized by both the World Health Organization and the United Nations as a human rights violation perpetrated upon little girls and women. Over 200 million women worldwide have been subjected to this cruel and barbaric practice.


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