Half a million girls in the US 'at risk of female genital mutilation': Rapid rise in immigrants has fueled the illegal practice, say experts Nearly 513,000 women and girl in the US were at risk for female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM) in 2012, according to a CDC report (file picture) Female genital mutilation isn’t commonly associated with the US. However, a new report revealed almost 513,000 women and girls in the US were at risk for ‘female genital mutilation/cutting or its consequences’ in 2012. That figure is more than ‘three times higher’ than a 1990 estimate, when 168,000 girls and women were thought to be at risk, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization and United Nations define FGM as ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons'. It is most commonly practiced in Africa, as well as some countries in South Asia and the Middle East – and has been illegal in the US since 1996. The report said: ‘The estimated increase was wholly a result of rapid growth in the number of immigrants from FGM-practicing countries living in the United States and not from increases in FGM prevalence in those countries.’ FGM has been a traditional practice in some cultures since ‘antiquity'. However, the practice violates several human rights principles. Specifically, it goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report said. FGM is associated with ‘a wide variety of physical, sexual and psychological/emotional complications, both immediate and long term'. The WHO in 2008 estimated between 100 and 140 million women and girls worldwide had undergone one of the traditional forms of the procedure. It also said nearly three million girls undergo FGM each year. Yet, no reliable sources of data existed on the number of US residents who have undergone the procedure – or undergo it each year. FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION Female genital mutilation is the practice in which some or all of the female genitals are removed, typically with a blade or a razor and sometimes without anaesthesia. This includes removing the clitoral and the fold of skin above it, and removing labia – the inner 'lips' of the vagina. In the most severe form, the inner and outer labia are removed and the opening of the vagina is closed with a small hole so the woman can pass urine and menstrual blood. Sometimes the vagina is then cut open for sex or childbirth. Women sometimes bleed to death or can be left with horrifying health effects, such as infections, chronic pain, cysts, infertility and problems giving birth. But, some immigrants have tried to sustain the practice after moving to the US, either by having their daughters cut locally or sending them oversees for the purpose of having them cut – which is known as ‘vacation cutting'. The US Congress in 1996 passed the Federal prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, which made it illegal to perform FGM on girls younger than 18 in the US. And then, in 2013, Congress passed the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act – which amended the 1996 legislation to make it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the US for the purpose of FGM. The CDC developed estimates for the number of women and girls at risk from the 1990 US Census. The study estimated that 168,000 girls and women in the US in 1990 had undergone or were at risk for the procedure. The African Women’s Health Center at Bingham and Women’s Hospital and the Population Reference Bureau updated the CDC estimate in 1990. They found that 227,887 women and girls in 2000 had undergone or were at risk for the procedure in 2000. The report said: ‘This 35 per cent increase in one decade was attributable to large increases in the U.S. population of women and girls born in or with ancestry from FGM-practising countries.’ The new report is an update of the 1990 methods. It derived data from the 2012 American Community Survey, and also from population-based, country-specific FGM prevalence estimates. +2 The increased FGM risk for US women and girls stems from an influx of immigrants from countries where the practise is common, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Egypt, the CDC said (file picture) The CDC found a total of 27 countries had an estimated FRM prevalence of two per cent or more. The survey provided estimates of the population residing in the US who were born in 17 of the 27 countries. For the purpose of the analysis, the CDC defined ‘at risk’ as potentially having undergone FGM in the past or at risk for undergoing FGM in the future. The report said: ‘In slightly more than two decades, from 1990 to 2012, the total number of women and girls in the United States at risk for FGM or its consequences increased by 224 per cent, from 168,000 to 545,000.’ Immigrants from Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia had the highest risk for FGM. However, the report noted that the data didn’t present information on the extent to which FGM is practised in the US. The CDC said actions must be implemented to capture that information so that the US ‘can more effectively move toward prevention'.