Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet

 

What is female genital mutilation? Female genital mutilation (FGM) is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs and is often performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14 to ensure their virginity until marriage.

Is female genital mutilation harmful?  Yes.  The World Health Organization reports that FGM has no health benefits and can cause a number of health problems.  Immediately following the procedure, girls are at risk for severe pain, shock, bleeding, bacterial infection, and injury to nearby tissue.  In the long term, girls and women who have suffered this procedure are at risk for recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts, infertility, and complications during childbirth.

Is female genital mutilation practiced in the United States?  Because this is a private ritual that occurs within the secrecy of the family, there is no way of knowing exactly how prevalent FGM is in the U.S. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either suffered the procedure or are at risk of FGM, a number that approximately doubled between 2000 and 2014.  The estimated number of girls at risk of FGM in the US has quadrupled since 1997.

Is female genital mutilation a crime?  Yes, FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In January 2013, the federal FGM law was amended by the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, which prohibits knowingly transporting a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing FGM. The Act was designed to address the problem of “vacation cutting”, in which girls living in the United States are taken to their parents’ country of origin (typically during school breaks) to undergo the procedure.  Under the new federal law, anyone found guilty of doing so may be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

FGM is also a crime in the following 26 states:

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Arizona
Florida
Louisiana
Missouri
New York
Rhode Island
Virginia
California
Georgia
Maryland
Nevada
North Dakota
South Dakota
West Virginia
Colorado
Illinois
Michigan
New Hampshire
Oklahoma
Texas
Wisconsin
Delaware
Kansas
Minnesota
New Jersey
Oregon
Tennessee
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The AHA Foundation has successfully advocated for laws criminalizing FGM in the United States:

  • Federal Extraterritoriality Amendment - In January 2013, President Obama strengthened the existing federal FGM ban by adding an “extraterritoriality” component, making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing the procedure.  The AHA Foundation’s Founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and our legislative team specifically consulted with Representative Crowley (NY), a key proponent of the Bill, on the serious problem of “vacation cutting”, and lent our support for the language contained in the new Bill.

  • New Jersey - In February 2012, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced the AHA Foundation’s model FGM legislation, which was signed into law in 2014.

  • Louisiana - In May of 2012, Governor Jindal signed into law a bill criminalizing FGM in the state of Louisiana. This bill includes the AHA Foundation’s model language that also makes it a crime to remove a girl from the state for the purpose of FGM; the law went into effect August 1, 2012.

  • Kansas - In February of 2013, the AHA Foundation provided written testimony in support of a proposed FGM bill in Kansas, which includes an extra-territoriality component and other provisions contained in our model legislation. The Bill was signed into law by Governor Brownback on April 10, 2013.

  • South Dakota - The AHA Foundation provided a response to address concerns that a ban on FGM would infringe on religious freedom. The Foundation also sent a letter in support of the bill to all members of the South Dakota Senate. The legislation was passed by the Senate and signed into law in March 2015.

  • Texas – Senator Jane Nelson proposed to strengthen the Texas legislation after seeing Ayaan’s appearance on the Tucker Carlson show. Her legislation included creating a penalty for parents and guardians who have their child undergo the procedure, outlawing “vacation cutting,” and eliminating the use of culture as a defense for the practice. The Foundation supported Nelson’s legislation by providing a letter of support and Ayaan applauded the Senator’s action on Twitter. The bill swiftly passed in the state and the legislation went into effect on September 1st, 2017.

  • Michigan - The AHA Foundation played a pivotal role in getting the strongest to-date state FGM legislation passed in Michigan. The Foundation not only provided resources and advice on the bills, but in May 2017, Senior Director Amanda Parker testified in front of the Michigan House Committee on Law and Justice, successfully urging lawmakers to pass the comprehensive package of FGM legislation. The legislation was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder in July 2017.

  • New Hampshire – The AHA Foundation hosted a luncheon where approximately 200 legislators learned about the dangers of FGM and the need to criminalize the practice. The AHA Foundation also testified in a committee hearing and provided written support for the anti-FGM legislation put forward by Representative Victoria Sullivan. In July 2018, Governor Chris Sununu signed the legislation into law.


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Forced Marriage Fact Sheet

 

WHAT IS FORCED MARRIAGE?  A forced marriage occurs when an individual is forced, coerced, threatened, or tricked to marry without their informed consent.

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE? In many cultures, it is customary for families to arrange meetings between their children in the hopes of fostering a voluntary relationship that will lead to a marriage. In such situations, while the initial meetings are arranged by the families and a marriage is encouraged, the ultimate decision regarding whether to marry remains with the couple and the choice to marry is strictly voluntary. In contrast, in a forced marriage, an individual is threatened and/or coerced by her family to enter into the marriage against her will and may suffer honor violence if she resists or refuses the marriage.

DOES THIS HAPPEN IN THE UNITED STATES?  Yes. Although this is generally treated as a private family matter that remains hidden from public view, there are numerous reports of girls being taken out of school in the United States in their early teenage years and returned to their parents’ home countries to be forcibly married. For example, in 2007, the New York Daily News reported that a number of girls were being forced to return to Pakistan to marry men chosen by their families. One woman recalled being tricked and drugged before being put on a plane to Pakistan and, once there, being forced at gunpoint to acquiesce to a marriage to a man chosen by her father.

The Tahirih Justice Center released survey results in September of 2011 that found as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage within immigrant communities in the United States in the two years preceding the survey. We believe the actual number of forced marriage cases in the United States to be much higher, as the survey was directed only towards service providers and other professionals.

The AHA Foundation conducted a study in partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice looking at forced marriage in New York City. The researchers interviewed CUNY students whose families originated from countries with a high incidence of forced marriage on their experiences with relationships and marriage. Of those students interviewed, 84% knew of at least one person in their social circle who did not want to marry their partner but did so anyway. The likely reason for this disconnect is family conflict over marital choice.

IS FORCED MARRIAGE A CRIME IN THE UNITED STATES?  There are only ten U.S. states and territories that have specifically outlawed forced marriage (source: Tahirih Justice Center).



California
Oklahoma
Maryland
Virgin Islands
Minnesota
Virginia
Mississippi
Washington, D.C.
Nevada
West Virginia



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Child Marriage Fact Sheet



What is Child Marriage?
Child marriage is the marriage of a minor below the legal age of majority, which in most states in the United States is 18. The U.S. Department of State recognizes all marriages before 18 as a human rights abuse.

What are the dangers of child marriage?
Child marriage severely limits opportunities to health, education, and economic freedom. It also increases risk of domestic violence. Given these factors, one case of child marriage is one too many.

William & Mary Law Professor Vivian Hamilton has extensively studied the effects of child marriage in the United States. She finds the following in her report “The Age of Marital Capacity: Reconsidering Civil Recognition of Adolescent Marriage”:

  • Marriages entered into before the age of 18 have a 70-80% likelihood of ending in divorce;
  • Women who marry before 19 are 50% more likely to drop out of high school than their unmarried counterparts and 4x less likely to complete college;
  • Women who marry young are 31% more likely to live in poverty later in life than women who delay marriage;
  • Women who married at 18 or before had a 23% greater risk of disease onset, including heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

Does this happen in the United States?
Yes. Between 2000-2010, it is estimated that nearly 250,000 children as young as 12 were married in the United States, with most of these marriages being girls wed to adult men (source: Unchained At Last). The AHA Foundation has worked with potential victims and survivors of child marriage across the United States and know that this is a reality for countless children in the U.S.

What communities practice child marriage? Who is most at risk?
Child marriage is not limited to one religion, ethnicity, or community. We have helped potential victims and survivors from a wide range of backgrounds.

We do know that girls are the most vulnerable and most likely to be forced into marriage before 18.

Is child marriage legal in the United States?
There are only 2 states in the United States that completely ban child marriage with no exceptions: Delaware and New Jersey. The remaining 48 allow some form of marriage below the age of 18 with exceptions such as parental consent or judicial approval.

Several states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia have taken steps to limit child marriage, but still have dangerous loopholes that allow for some form of it within their borders.

Why should 18 be the minimum age of marriage?
The AHA Foundation advocates for a hard minimum age of marriage at the age of majority in each state, which is typically 18, with no exceptions. Marriage is a serious legal contract, and we believe that it should be reserved for those who have reached the age of majority and has full access to all rights bestowed upon them at the age of majority.

Minors may not have the resources to find a way out of the situation if they are forced into an underage marriage. They face significant legal and practical barriers if they try to leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, retain an attorney, file a legal action such as divorce, etc.

Further, the AHA Foundation knows that child marriage is often forced marriage; we have seen that minors approaching the age of 18 are most at risk of being forced into a marriage. This type of situation is often triggered when the minor is about to graduate from high school or turn 18, as a way for parents to permanently maintain control of their child. Minors deserve to be protected until they reach the age of majority and have access to the rights they need to protect themselves from an unwanted marriage.

What are some of the dangerous loopholes in state law that states have that allow for child marriage?
There are a variety of loopholes that allow for marriage below the age of 18 in different states, all of which are dangerous. Some of the most common exceptions include:

  1. Parental consent: In many states, one or both parents can approve a marriage for their underaged child. This exception is dangerous because there are no mechanisms possible to ensure that the required parental consent is not in fact parental coercion. Children who have not yet reached the age of majority can easily be forced or coerced into marriage or trapped in an abusive marriage. Minors being coerced into marriage may fear familial violence should they refuse to comply, or they may be physically or emotionally manipulated into accepting an unwanted marriage.
  2. Judicial approval: Numerous states allow for marriage before 18 if judicial approval is provided; however, this is again dangerous for the minor because it is unlikely that a minor being forced into a marriage will disclose this to a judge. This loophole puts the onus of reporting an unwanted marriage to the judge on the minor, an unfair burden. Like the parental consent exception, minors might fear violence at home if they reveal the truth to a judge or might be manipulated into accepting the unwanted marriage.
  3. Pregnancy exception: Another exception that some states allow for is a pregnancy exception, which allows a pregnant minor to marry. However, not only should pregnant girls be protected just as much as every other minor from the dangers of child marriage, this pregnancy exception is frequently used to cover up rape. Pregnant teens are also more vulnerable to being forced into an unwanted marriage and less likely to return to school and complete their education.

Are there any federal protections that could be added to protect children from marriage?
Currently, there is no minimum age in place for a U.S. citizen to sponsor an individual to come to the U.S. with a spousal or fiancé(e) visa. This means that a child of any age can petition the U.S. government to allow a spouse or fiancé(e) to immigrate to the United States. This loophole leaves minors with U.S. citizenship vulnerable to forced marriage with non-citizens, as their parents can offer citizenship through their child as a dowry or bride price.


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Honor Violence Fact Sheet



What is honor violence?  Honor violence is a form of violence against women committed with the motive of protecting or regaining the honor of the perpetrator, family, or community.  Victims of honor violence are targeted because their actual or perceived behavior is deemed to be shameful or to violate cultural or religious norms.  Conduct such as resisting an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, adopting a Western lifestyle and wearing Western clothing, and having friends of the opposite sex have resulted in honor violence.

Honor violence involves systematic control of the victim that escalates over a period of time and may begin at a young age.  Honor violence can be perpetrated by one individual or can be a group campaign of harassment and violence committed by an entire family or community.  It can take many forms, including verbal/emotional abuse, threats, stalking, harassment, false imprisonment, physical violence, sexual abuse, and homicide.

How is honor violence different from domestic violence?  Although honor violence involves violence by one family member against another, it has characteristics that make it unique and warrant a different approach by social service providers and law enforcement.  For example, a perpetrator of honor violence believes that his conduct is justified because of the victim’s actions.  Because this perception is supported by deeply ingrained cultural mores, he is generally not alone in this belief and often has the support of his family and community, either in planning and committing the violence or fleeing from law enforcement afterwards.  Additionally, a victim of honor violence is likely to be shunned by her family and community because she is believed to have caused the violence through her own behavior.  For a victim of honor violence to leave the abusive situation, she must not only part from her abuser, but often must be ready to leave her entire nuclear and extended family, and perhaps even her cultural community.  She will face immense pressure to change the offending behavior so as to bring peace to the family and restore the family’s honor and will be made to believe that she deserves the abuse she is suffering.

Does this happen in the United States?  Yes. There are numerous recent examples of honor violence in the U.S., a few of which are described below.

Aiya Altameemi.  In Arizona in February 2012, 19-year-old Aiya Altameemi was physically assaulted by her mother, father, and younger sister because she was seen talking to a boy.  Her father put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, while her mother and sister tied her to a bed, taped her mouth shut, and beat her.  This incident followed a previous incident in November 2011 when Aiya’s mother burned her on the face with a hot spoon because she refused to consent to an arranged marriage with a man twice her age.  During an interview with police, Aiya’s parents stated that they had abused their daughter because her behavior violated “Iraqi culture.” Aiya’s mother, father, and sister are all facing charges related to these incidents.

Sarah and Amina Said.
 In Texas in January 2008, Yaser Said shot and killed his teenage daughters, Sarah and Amina, because he was enraged by their Western lifestyle, particularly that they each had boyfriends. During a vigil held for the girls after their deaths, their brother took the microphone and suggested that his sisters were responsible for what had happened to them, saying “They pulled the trigger, not my dad.” Said fled after the murders and has not yet been apprehended.

Noor Almaleki.
 In Arizona in October 2009, Faleh Almaleki murdered his 20-year-old daughter, Noor, by running her down with his vehicle because he believed that she had shamed the family by becoming too Western and refusing to marry a man he had selected for her in Iraq. In February 2011, Almaleki was convicted of murder and sentenced to 34 1⁄2 years in prison.

The AHA Foundation has successfully advocated for government action to address honor violenceIn February 2012, the AHA Foundation provided draft language and a letter of support to Representative Frank Wolf for the Appropriations Bill that would compel the U.S. government to begin tracking honor violence. Once the bill was passed, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was required to begin collecting data on honor violence. As a result, in 2013, the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill directed the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women and the National Institute of Justice to determine the prevalence of honor violence and recommend best practices for law enforcement and service providers for prevention. A research firm was commissioned by the DOJ to write a report on the prevalence of honor violence in the U.S.; while the research was conducted, the AHA Foundation was frequently consulted and heavily cited in the resulting report, which shared that a critical next step in addressing honor violence in the U.S. is the training law enforcement and frontline service providers.  The AHA Foundation has trained more than 2,500 professionals on how to conduct investigations, identify cases and protect victims of honor violence.


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