FaithZette

Shame on Maine: Lawmakers Fail to Protect Girls from Mutilation

Disturbing new trend is making headlines, but legislation is moving forward to avoid safe harbor for FGM

Incredibly, Democratic legislators in Maine have submitted to the dictates of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others determined to prevent the state from criminalizing the mutilation of little girls’ genitals. If this decision stands, Maine risks becoming a safe harbor for mutilators.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) defies all standards of humanity, and the United Nations and the World Health Organization have condemned it as a hideous violation of human rights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nonetheless estimates that more than 513,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the United States alone — including untold numbers in Maine.

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Why would an organization ostensibly dedicated to civil liberties use its money and power to oppose legislation designed to protect young girls and other females from being involuntarily disfigured for life? The stated reasons don’t hold up to scrutiny.

The claim that FGM is not occurring in Maine is belied by anecdotal evidence from emergency rooms required to repair the damage done. The assertion that federal law banning FGM makes similar state prohibitions unnecessary is contradicted by the Maine Association of District Attorneys, which has strongly argued that they need explicit legislation to prosecute perpetrators.

Most unconvincing of all is the ACLU’s argument that the prospect of mutilations doesn’t warrant adding to the Maine criminal code. Really? The organization is renowned for petitioning for more legislation on all manner of issues, so why not this one?

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The same question arises with respect to Democratic members of the Maine House of Representatives. Do they really want to have even one more girl or woman in Maine become the victim of a lifetime of pain and psychological and medical problems because of their inaction?

Evidently, the ACLU and — with few exceptions — Maine House Democrats are willing, in effect, to protect the perpetrators of female genital mutilation, rather than their would-be victims, for one unstated reason: They do not wish to “give offense” to the state’s growing population of Somali refugees, who believe the Islamic code known as Sharia requires them to hack away at their girls’ genitals.

Like it or not, acknowledge it or not, the presence of this community and its tradition with respect to female genital mutilation is why the federal government considers Maine to be in the top tier of states at risk of FGM. Legislators’ cowardly determination not to give offense is a shameful formula for giving girls in Maine a lifetime of suffering and health problems.

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By contrast, lawmakers in Michigan recently protected such potential victims in their state. They acted after federal prosecutors brought charges against an alleged mutilation ring said to have operated for years near Detroit. Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a comprehensive and tough package of anti-FGM statutes, sending a strong message in Michigan that this criminal assault on little girls will not be tolerated — and, thereby, establishing a model for Maine and the 24 other states that have yet to enact such prohibitions.

Fortunately, the Maine legislature appears to have an opportunity to reconsider its failure to protect the state’s defenseless girls and women from female genital mutilation, with another chance for a vote in early August. It must not be missed.

Elizabeth Yore is an international child rights advocate and head of the new initiative EndFGMToday.com.