Female Genital Mutilation Fact SheetWhat 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? FGM was criminalized by the federal government in 1996 and made 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 this amendment, violations of the law carried a sentence of up to five years in prison. In 2017 federal prosecutors brought charges against a medical practitioner for performing FGM on young girls in the groundbreaking case United States v. Nagarwala. Nagarwala’s defense team submitted a motion to dismiss all charges in mid-2018, arguing that the federal anti-FGM law was unconstitutional. The judge presiding over the case ruled in their favor, arguing that the criminalization of FGM rested solely with the states. Most charges against the defendants were dismissed as a result. The final outcome is still pending. Though the Department of Justice declined to appeal this decision in early 2019, congressional leaders may still take action to affirm the constitutionality of the law. FGM is also a crime in the following 32 states:
Arizona Delaware Idaho Maryland Nevada North Dakota Rhode Island Utah
Arkansas Florida Iowa Maryland New Hampshire South Dakota Virginia West Virginia
California Georgia Kansas Minnesota New Jersey Oklahoma Oregon Texas
Colorado Illinois Louisiana Missouri New York Ohio Tennessee Wisconsin
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.
- Ohio – In 2018, AHA Foundation submitted testimony before the House Criminal Justice Committee for a law that would criminalize FGM in the state of Ohio. At the end of the year, Ohio passed the anti-FGM bill that we provided guidance on for over a year.
- Arkansas – AHA Foundation worked closely with Senator Breanne Davis, the lead sponsor for FGM criminalization, and other lawmakers throughout the legislative process for some of the strongest anti-FGM legislation in the country. The bill language is based on AHA Foundation’s model legislation and includes an emergency clause that makes the bill effective immediately at the time of signing.
- Utah – AHA Foundation worked directly with Representative Ken Ivory for FGM criminalization in the state of Utah. AHA’s Senior Director, Amanda Parker, provided verbal and written testimony in favor of Utah’s anti-FGM bill and interviewed with local CBS news affiliate KUTV. This legislation is one of the strongest passed to date and includes provisions for education and outreach and mandatory reporting. It was signed by Governor Gary Herbert in March 2019.
- Idaho – AHA Foundation’s Senior Director, Amanda Parker, worked extensively in the state of Idaho to educate local organizations and state lawmakers on FGM and encourage the passage of proposed anti-FGM legislation. The bill was signed into law in March 2019 and will take effect July 1, 2019.
Forced Marriage Fact SheetWHAT 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).
Maryland Virgin Islands
Mississippi Washington, D.C.
Nevada West Virginia
Child Marriage Fact SheetWhat 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.