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Sheila Jackson Lee Calls for Plan to Protect American Girls from Female Genital Mutilation

by: Genevieve Cato

Fri Jun 13, 2014 at 09:00 AM CDT

On Thursday, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston joined with Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York to ask the federal government to help protect American girls from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). For those familiar with FGM, it may come as a surprise that this is an issue the United States government needs to address. FGM is a cultural right of passage practiced in 29 nations in Africa and the Middle East. Falsely attributed to Islamic law, the tradition is thought to preserve chastity and modesty and to prepare the young girl for womanhood and marriage.

So, why are Lee and Crowley asking the United States government to come up with a plan? Because for at least 200,000 American girls, summer vacations bring the risk of undergoing FGM on a trip to their families' home country.

More on FGM and the serious risk posed to American girls below the jump.

Many young American girls are sent to their family's nation of origin over the summer to spend time with relatives and learn about their culture. For some of them, however, these trips include a cultural practice that can leave them scarred, unable to have children, or even end in their death.

FGM has many variations that vary in extremity. In the least invasive cases, a small sliver of the clitoral hood is removed. On the other end of the spectrum the clitoris is completely removed and the labia majora are cut and fused together, leaving only a small hole for menstruation and urination. This extreme version of the procedure can lead to serious health risks and incredibly painful sexual intercourse and childbirth. FGM has no medical benefits for the girls.

As the population of African immigrants in the United States grows, so does the need to address the safety of American girls in immigrant communities from undergoing FGM. Though the practice has been outlawed in the United States since 1996 and a law passed in 2011 outlaws transporting girls for the purpose of cutting, many young women are still at risk.

This prompted Sheila Jackson Lee and Joseph Crowley to call on the federal government to develop a plan, similar to other countries with large numbers of African immigrants, to address the risk of FGM for American girls. Lee called on the Department of Justice, the State Department, the Education Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the White House Office of Management and Budget to create a plan involving all of the departments, agencies, and offices to better address and, ultimately, end the practice of American girls being subjected to FGM.  

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