Harsher punishments for female mutilation proposed in Harrisburg

A Democratic state representative on Monday called for support for a bill to officially outlaw female circumcision in Pennsylvania and to make such acts, called “female genital mutilation,” a felony.

“Women who are immigrants are at continued risk of the practice as these cultural beliefs follow them to the United States. … We cannot stop this unless my legislation is passed into law,” PA. state rep. Tom Murt (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) said Monday after announcing the re-introduction of this legislation, which he has been trying to pass since the 2013-14 session. “In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution about the elimination of this practice, emphasizing the need for concerted action from health care providers and law enforcement to stop this practice.”

Female genital mutilation, referred to as FGM and consistent with what some cultures call female circumcision, in general, does not clearly fall within Pennsylvania’s assault statutes, said a foundation that lobbies for legislation against FGM.

“General aggravated assault laws are not sufficient to protect against FGM,” said George Zarubin, executive director of the AHA (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) Foundation in a statement in support of Murt’s bill. “Parents wrongly believe they are doing the best for their child by inflicting FGM on them. There is no malicious intent required to prosecute assault. Legislating against FGM in Pennsylvania would give prosecutors the ability to prosecute at the state level”

So far, 26 states have illegalized FGM, including Delaware, Maryland and New York.

Ali, founder of the AHA Foundation, was born in Somalia and as a resident of the UK is an outspoken critic of FGM along with honor killings and arranged marriages, all of which her foundation lobbies against. Ali has in the past been accused of Islamophobia for primarily targeting cultural practices common within the Muslim faith.

Female circumcision has been practiced on at least an estimated 130 million women worldwide.

FGM has rarely been documented in the U.S., but is estimated to happen as often as in 73 percent of cases in countries like Gambia, with Ethiopia having a 98 percent female circumcision rate, according to UNICEF. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has an African Women’s Health Center purely devoted to treating female circumcision, whose doctors say cases of FGM are rising in the US as immigrants bring their traditions to the country.

“Steeped in a strong cultural belief that views it as a rite of passage, FGC involves the removal of external genitalia in young girls when they are between the ages of five and 12,” researchers from Brigham’s wrote. “Some of the risks associated with the procedure include disability and premature death.”

The AHA Foundation said some 500,000 women in the US, 166,000 of them under 18, are at risk of FGM.

Pennsylvania is ranked 11th in the nation for FGM risk, with some 19,000 women estimated to be at risk of the procedure, 6,000 of them under the age of 18.

FGM By the Numbers

Women at risk of FGM in the US

Under 18

Women at risk of FGM in Pennsylvania

Under 18

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