Words have the power to inform or delude. No one understands this better than the proponents of female genital mutilation (FGM), who minimize the barbaric practice with inaccurate and misleading descriptions.

They continually soft-peddle FGM in a concerted effort to perpetuate this dangerous and wholly unnecessary ritual, which plagues over 200 million girls and women around the world.

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Yet the reality is that the procedure can be deadly. Recent news underscores the life-threatening nature of this ancient, horrendous practice imposed on small girls from the ages of three up to 12. The linguistic lies about female genital mutilation abound among its defenders, who claim the barbaric procedure of removing girls’ external genitalia is “benign,” simply “a pinprick,” “a scraping” — or just like circumcision.

This summer, a 10-year-old Somali girl died after an FGM procedure.

In Somalia, 98 percent of girls undergo FGM between the ages of five and 12. The procedure involves a “cutter,” who is often an unlicensed tribal midwife.

This past month, two more Somali girls, ages 11 and 10, bled to death after the procedure. They were the most recent casualties of a Somali culture that mandates that all females undergo FGM despite specific condemnation by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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No sooner had these precious Somali girls been laid to rest than more breaking news came from the BBC: About 50 girls from Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, were hospitalized for botched FGM procedures.

Some of the injured were as young as four.

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Related: Shame on Maine: Lawmakers Fail to Protect Girls from Mutilation

Old religious and cultural habits, despite the dangerous and even fatal risks, die hard. They are embedded in Muslim practices and continue to rob young lives, even though the practice is illegal in many countries; nevertheless, it continues to thrive despite its being unlawful. Thus, the secretive practice, coupled with the mandatory directive of religious leaders, requires a sustained and coordinated global effort to eradicate this barbarism.

In America, with the influx of migrants from FGM-practicing countries, the scourge has soared with little awareness of its arrival. Female genital mutilation has landed on our shores and is practiced covertly in these immigrant communities. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reports that 513,000 girls and women are at risk for FGM in the United States!

This is a fourfold increase since the U.S. started tracking the procedure here.

Torture, cloaked in religious and culture terms, poses special challenges for child advocates by falsely elevating FGM to a religious right.

As evidence, on September 13, the federal government in the trial involving the FGM-practicing Dr. Jumana Nagarwala from the Dawoodi Bohra Shia sect in Detroit, Michigan, amended its complaint to include three more child victims from Illinois who were subjected to the procedure.

The feds allege that there are now nine young female victims from three states. The defendant in this landmark case argues that she performed it as a religious custom. The syedna, the chief spiritual Bohra leader, has encouraged his followers to continue both “male and female circumcision” as their “obligation” to attain “religious purity.”

FGM is neither benign nor beneficial; and no finessing of the language can obscure the deleterious and deadly complications from this brutal practice. Its young victims have no voice and are intimidated into silence. Yet they must endure the lifelong health and psychological consequences of the trauma associated with the practice.

Related: The Real Reason Americans Protest Sharia Law

The CDC, WHO and the United Nations all repeatedly warn about the physical and psychological dangers of this barbaric procedure. Yet the FGM body count continues to grow around the world.

Torture, cloaked in religious and culture terms, poses special challenges for child advocates by falsely elevating FGM to a religious right.

Nevertheless, will America lead the world to ensure that this hideous procedure dies a swift and sure death?

The failure to aggressively ban, outlaw and prohibit FGM as a mandated but covert religious practice among Muslim religious leaders demonstrates its protracted and lingering custom. At its core, FMG remains a pervading and malicious directive of control and suppression over female sexuality.

Elizabeth Yore is an international child advocate attorney with expertise in human trafficking, child exploitation, missing children, and female genital mutilation. Yore was formerly the general counsel at the National Center for Missing and Abducted Children; she currently heads the national #EndFGMToday initiative.

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