Protect Girls From Mutilation

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Thirty-three states within the United States have passed legisla­tion that makes female genital mutilation illegal.

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Female genital mutilation or cutting is done partly for aesthetics and mostly as a ritual. Mutilation is such a strong descrip­tion that some prefer to call it female circum­ci­sion. This seems to align it with, more accept­able, male circum­cision.

The latter has biblical origins and is common within major hospitals around the world, often within 10 days of male birth. The former, with ancient Egyptian origins, applies to girls aged 0–15 as a rite of passage.

FGM/C, also known as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez, and khitan, is the partial or total removal of the external female geni­talia. What some consider female castration is often performed with knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades by tradi­tional circum­cisers or cutters who lack medical training. In some countries a medical profes­sional does it.

There are varia­tions of four different types or levels. This cannot be passed off as a legitimate way to circumcise a girl.

Type I (clitoridectomy) – Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce.

Type II (excision) – Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia majora or minora.

Type III (infibulation) – Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal, leaving a small opening for draining urine and menses.

Type IV – Any other harmful proce­dure to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, or cauterizing.

A woman Kenyan doctor named Tatu Kamau wants female genital mutilation to be decrimi­nal­ized. She told judges on October 24, 2019 that the term mutilation is “offensive” and denigrates the cultural significance of the practice.

Communities at particular risk of FGM/C originate from:

  • Egypt
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia
  • Guinea
  • Indonesia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Malaysia
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Yemen

Historical Legal Landmarks

Internationally

The UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child both include statements against the practice of FGM/C. It is an interna­tionally recognized human rights violation.

Some confusion results from a largely unregulated procedure known as labiaplasty, which involves shortening or trimming the labia. In contrast, the main types of FGM/C involve removing part or all of the clitoris, removing the inner labia, or narrowing the vagina opening by repositioning the labia. Patients seeking labiaplasty to conform to a norm often lack knowledge of how diverse women’s labia are.

Female Genitalia Variation Table
VariationMillimetersInches
Clitoral length5–35 mm0.2–1.4
Clitoral glans width3–10 mm0.1–0.4
Clitoris to urethra16–45 mm0.6–1.8
Labia majora length70–120 mm2.8–4.7
Labia minora length20–100 mm0.8–4.0
Labia minora width7–50 mm0.3–2.0
Perineum length15–55 mm0.6–2.2
Vaginal length65–125 mm2.6–4.9

Both female genital mutilation and labioplasty strive to surgically normalize the appearance of genitalia. What you consider normal is open to interpretation.

United Kingdom

In the 1950s, clitori­dec­tomy was practiced in Western Europe and the United States to treat perceived ail­ments, including mental and sexual disorders. Since 1985, it is illegal to perform FGM/C in the UK, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. A person found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM/C can face up to 7 years in prison.

United States of America

Though reports suggest as many as half a million girls are at risk, current prevalence of FGM/C in the United States is uncertain. From the 1880s, excision was performed to prevent and treat lesbianism, masturbation, depression, hysteria, and nympho­mania. FGM/C was an allow­able medical practice in the United States until the end of the 20th century, with some proce­dures covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance until 1977.

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