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25 May 2010

American Academy of Pediatrics Gives in to Ritual Torture: My Activism

By Gina Liggett

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an ages-old religious-tribal practice in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East in which the genitalia of young girls is butchered in a ritualized ceremony for the cultural purposes of "maintaining a girl's virtue" and enhancing marriageability. The practice is in fact the most egregious form of institutionalized and culturally-sanctioned sexual abuse of females existing today.

In a shocking acquiescence to the "cultural sensitivity" of immigrants from countries where FMG is routinely practiced, The American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its policy, "Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors", adding the suggestion that American doctors be given permission to perform a ceremonial "nick" on girls from these cultures if it would keep their families from sending them overseas for the full procedure.

This policy is full of contradictions, hypocrisy, rationalizations, and minimization of the savagery of FGM. On the one hand, the AAP stands opposed to the practice, yet in another sentence states:

These physicians emphasize the significance of a ceremonial ritual in the initiation of the girl or adolescent as a community member and advocate only pricking or incising the clitoral skin as sufficient to satisfy cultural requirements. This is no more of an alteration than ear piercing.
You have got to be kidding?! Ear-piercing is a benign cosmetic enhancement practiced world-wide voluntarily by women, men, and children alike. Female Genital Mutilation is sexual torture performed for the cultural purpose of dehumanizing and controlling females in the culture.

In another contradiction, the policy cites evidence that strict condemnation of the practice in Scandinavia actually eliminated it among the Somali immigrant population. But then the policy makes mere suppositions that giving in to what I call "little bit of sexual abuse" by a physician-performed "nick" might help ameliorate FGM.

Currently, offering a "ritual nick" is prohibited by US federal law. And a new law, "The Girls Protection Act," is being introduced in Congress by Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA). The summary statement of this bills is as follows:
Girls Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 5137) - Amends the federal criminal code to impose a fine or five-year prison term, or both, on any U.S. citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who knowingly transports in foreign commerce a girl under the age of 18 for the purposes of female genital mutilation.
I have written the following letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics voicing my opposition to its policy. I have also written the American Nurses Association and will be contacting other health provider groups as well as supporting House Bill 5137 (long time since I've supported anything done in Washington).

Here is my letter. I encourage readers to advocate in their own way against this blatant and evil encroachment of Multiculturalism at the expense of individual rights.
Dear American Academy of Pediatrics,

Your revised policy, "Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors," is nothing more than a tacit endorsement of a barbaric social custom.

You cannot in one sentence denounce the practice, yet in another advocate a compromising "nick" without committing utter hypocrisy. You make nothing more than guesses about purported advantages of a "ritual nick," yet contradict yourself by citing evidence to the opposite that strictly prohibiting it can end the practice.

This compromise policy crosses a dangerous line: your policy in fact legitimates female genital mutilation--the widespread, culturally-sanctioned ritualized form of extreme sexual abuse of females. By offering the daughter of immigrants a "ritual nick"-- in other words "mini sexual abuse"---rationalizing that her parents won't take her overseas for more drastic mutilating torture, is the most spineless capitulation to multiculturalism that I've ever heard of.

Your preference for the minimizing term, "cutting," in place of the accurately descriptive term, "mutilation," in no way obliterates the facts of reality: the cultures where this practice occurs butcher their daughters' genitalia to dehumanize her sexuality, autonomy, individual rights, equality before the law, and the very integrity of her personhood.

Take a good look at your drawings of the four types of female genital mutilation and imagine the excruciating pain a married virgin must undergo when her husband rams his penis into a very small opening that has been sewn shut by build up of scar tissue. Would you want that for yourselves, you female physicians? For your own daughters? Your own patients?!

The following is the stand that the AAP and all other medical and nursing societies must take: female genital mutilation in any form whatsoever--including a "ritual nick"--is to be unequivocally, unambiguously and explicitly denounced. If a family intends to or has taken a girl overseas for the procedure, they should be reported to the legal authorities where child abuse is reported. Their parents should be reported to the police and department of immigration, and deported from this country.

We cannot compromise on fundamental principles of individual rights--anywhere, anytime, for any expedient reason. They are absolute.

Female genital mutilation must end in our lifetime. We must stand up to these cultures with the attitude, "what you are doing to your daughters is immoral, wrong, and will not in anyway be tolerated here in the land of the free." As care providers we can educate immigrant parents with a culturally-sensitive approach, but the principle itself is inviolable.

If I ever encounter a patient with a ritual nick performed here in this country, I myself will report the family to social services and immigration authorities, and I will report the physician to his or her Board of Medical Examiners and inform the media.

Please, I beg you, seriously reconsider revising again your policy on "Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors," and live up to your sacred oath as healers of the most vulnerable in society.

Gina M. Liggett, RN, MPH
Denver, CO

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