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Opinion: Federal genital mutilation law should punish parents as well as doctors

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While a Detroit-area doctor has been charged with performing genital mutilation on two young, Minnesota girls, the parents, who misled their children into believing they were taking a “girls’ trip,” have yet to be charged with child abuse as of this writing.

Female circumcision is most commonly done in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Egyptian politician Elhamy Agina supported the practice because Egypt’s men were “sexually weak” and could not meet the sexual demands of Egyptian women. So punish the women, right?

Many instances of female genital mutilation go unreported, but instances have tripled since 1990 according to this report by the Government Accountability Office. This is the first federal case of its kind under the federal statute passed in 1997. Female genital mutilation is governed by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 7, Subsection 116 of the United States code, but only focuses on the doctor performing the unnecessary surgery. The entire law follows:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

(b) A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is—

  1. necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner; or
  2. performed on a person in labor or who has just given birth and is performed for medical purposes connected with that labor or birth by a person licensed in the place it is performed as a medical practitioner, midwife, or person in training to become such a practitioner or midwife.

(c) In applying subsection (b)(1), no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person, or any other person, that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.

(d) Whoever knowingly transports from the United States and its territories a person in foreign commerce for the purpose of conduct with regard to that person that would be a violation of subsection (a) if the conduct occurred within the United States, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

The parents will be subject to state child abuse laws, but no charges have come from the State of Minnesota as of this writing. The penalty for causing “substantial bodily harm” to a child is five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Does that penalty fit the crime? Dr. Dalia Wachs doesn’t think so.

“Are you kidding me? I mean, that should be a lot longer,” she said, adding later that “if you psychologically traumatize someone at that age, especially a child … these girls might not ever have an interest in sex.”

Wachs thinks if some of the more than half million American women were to enroll in a study to determine the psychological effects of female circumcision, it would be helpful in determining a punishment that fits the crime, because “there are no health benefits” from the surgery.

The federal law should be altered to provide harsher penalties to parents forcing this procedure upon their children. Imagine if your parents did this to you at age seven and then you had to continue living with them for another decade or so, knowing they had forever altered your ability to enjoy sex and quite possibly your ability to have children of your own, according to the World Health Organization. Everyone has the right to attempt to be better parents than their own parents, unless, of course, you have parents like these.

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