Congressman Crowley and Survivors Call for Closure of Loophole in U.S. Law that's Keeping Women at Risk of Female Genital Mutilation

June 7, 2010
Press Release

New York City – Today, Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for passage The Girls Protection Act (H.R. 5137) – legislation he authored that would make it a federal crime to transport a minor outside the United States for the purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is defined as the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia”. He was joined by women who have survived FGM and spoke out publicly for the first time.  Also on hand were leaders from the women’s rights organization Equality Now and the prominent New York anti-domestic violence organization Sanctuary for Families.

“FGM is not just an issue overseas, it is a terrifying procedure that too many girls here in the United States are forced to undergo. The Girls Protection Act will put the law firmly on the side of young girls, and empower U.S. law enforcement to prosecute and punish anyone trying to traffic a minor abroad for FGM,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY).

FGM has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1996.  Unfortunately, current law contains a loophole which some have used to send girls outside the country for the purposes of FGM.  The Girls Protection Act would close this loophole by applying the same penalties that exist for domestic FGM to those involved in the transport of a minor abroad for the purpose of FGM. 

The Girls Protection Act is modeled after the laws governing those engaged in international child prostitution.  The bill was introduced on Monday, April 26 and was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.  Crowley is also working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to launch an outreach, education and prevention program to support community-based efforts to prevent FGM. 

“There’s a growing awareness that more needs to be done to combat the practice of FGM. We, however, cannot lower the bar when it comes to protecting the health and well-being of young women and girls,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley.  “That is why I strongly opposed The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent proposal to allow U.S. doctors to perform a certain type of FGM.  Instead, we should enact the Girls Protection Act and establish a comprehensive community-based outreach and education effort to prevent this human rights abuse.”

Congressman Crowley was the first member of Congress to speak out against The American Academy of Pediatrics April 26th statement that a certain type of FGM – which it called a “prick” – should be permissible in the U.S. as a way of preventing girls from being taken abroad for the purposes of FGM.  The Academy described its proposal as a “compromise”, but it reversed its decision on May 27th after severe backlash from elected officials, medical experts and women’s rights organizations. 

"The Girls Protection Act is a step in the right direction to ensure that girls are safe from the harmful cultural practice that is FGM. Together, we can work toward ending this human rights violation by breaking the silence, educating parents and communities about FGM's harmful effects, and more importantly, ensuring that girls are fully protected under the law," said Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director, Equality Now.

"Those of us who work closely with affected communities know that FGM is happening behind closed doors, right under our noses.  To stop the threat of FGM against girls living in the United States, we need to increase education and reporting, as well as support the Girls Protection Act," said Archana Pyati, Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families.

Congressman Crowley, a six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, represents New York’s 7th Congressional district (the Bronx, Queens), which is one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the United States.  He serves on the House Committee on Ways & Means and Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Since being elected to Congress, Crowley has championed numerous women’s health initiatives, including advocating for the repeal of the global gag rule (also known as the Mexico City policy) and increased support for the United Nations Population Fund (the world’s largest source of population and reproductive health programs).