The Nation's Pulse

AAP Gives FGM an AOK

The American Academy of Pediatrics proposes a strange new approach to female genital mutilation.

By 5.25.10

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In 1996, it became illegal in the United States to perform the operation commonly called "female genital mutilation" (FGM). That law makes it clear that surgery is allowable only for specific medical conditions. Appallingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now wants to "compromise" the legal prohibition and allow physicians to perform a ceremonial "nick" on the genitalia of baby girls whose parents request the procedure. Clearly, the AAP capitulated their principles for political expediency. They excused their "nuanced" and "culturally sensitive" decision on the basis that "some families might take their daughters to other countries" for the entire "circumcision," so their "compromise" is meant to "avoid greater harm."

It is an open secret that the procedure is meant for baby girls born into families among the 10 million Islamic followers in the United States. As Mark Steyn put it: FGM is a "key pillar of institutional misogyny in Islam: Its entire purpose is to deny women sexual pleasure."

The brutal FGM procedure is not a medical procedure; instead it is a cultural, religious, or social practice. The underground practice of altering or removing the female genital organs is common in some African, Asian, and/or Islamic countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Mali. Actually, the procedure is prohibited in Africa, "in order to eradicate" the practice. The African Protocol on the Rights of Women prohibits "in all states" all forms of "female genital mutilation, scarification, medicalisation and para-medicalisation in order to eradicate them."

How ironic that those living where the practice is most common are trying to "eradicate" the procedure, while here in the United States where the practice is rare, there is a move to downplay the serious nature of the practice by introducing a lesser degree of the procedure. How ironic, too, that international progress condemning the procedure has expanded, while here in the U.S. a medical association recommends compromising our revulsion against the practice.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 140 million girls and women have endured clitoridectomies (typically performed between infancy and 15 years old) and live with the consequences -- which, in addition to the immediate dangers of infection and severe bleeding, can include long term problems such as repeated urinary tract infections and childbirth complications. The procedures are sometimes done under less than ideal circumstances and with crude implements -- without anesthesia and without sterilized instruments.

The supposedly intelligent physicians in the AAP are endorsing a policy for a brutal, sexist, non-medical procedure that is universally condemned. Their own 1998 statement recognized FGM as a human rights violation, and they opposed "perpetuating a social practice with cultural implications for the status of women." Today, however, AAP members are more enlightened; they no longer use the acronym, FGM, choosing instead to recommend "female genital cutting (FGC) or ritual genital cutting." These terms are meant to be "neutral" and "descriptive" rather than culturally insensitive. Ironically, they oppose only those forms of FGM which "pose the risk of physical or psychological harm" -- as if ritual "nicks" have no such risks. One writer described the "harm reduction" as similar to "the difference between amputation and laceration."

In other words, instead of protecting infants, children, and young girls, the AAP employs a "philosophical equivocation" to accommodate an inhumane Islamic practice that disfigures and subjugates its women and denies them normal lives as wives and mothers. Worse, the AAP accommodation gives legitimacy to a barbaric and illegal practice and ensures its continuation as a cultural rite of passage.

As a countermeasure -- and, on the same day that the AAP issued its statement -- Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-New York) and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-California) introduced H.R. 5137, The Girls Protection Act, a bill that will expand the current federal law by making it illegal to take a girl to another country to be circumcised.

In addition to the legal prohibitions against FGM, mothers have been a formidable obstacle to the procedure because they don't want their daughters to suffer through the same procedure and its aftermath that they have endured. Decent people around the world have joined with those mothers to decry the inhumanity of FGM. How sad that the AAP is choosing to weaken the case of those mothers by providing an alternative for their daughters that will perhaps weaken those mothers' valid concerns and strengthen the case of those who want to continue the brutality of the practice.

What will the AAP recommend next? Perhaps, as Equality Now suggested, they can come up with a less binding way of "foot binding"!

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About the Author

Janice Shaw Crouse, is the author of Children at Risk and Marriage Matters.