ICE war crimes unit is ramping up efforts at U.S airports to stop female genital mutilation. The new tactic was piloted at JFK before being rolled out to 14 other airports.
A new law that its backers called a pivotal step in protecting vulnerable young women and girls across the United States from the "barbaric and medically unnecessary procedure" of female genital mutilation was signed into law by President Trump on Thursday.
The bipartisan legislation, known as the Strengthening the Opposition to Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020, or STOP FGM Act of 2020, was introduced in Congress by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, just before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed much of the country in March.
"We are thrilled that the president has signed this. President Trump knows the Stop FGM Act will finally offer young women and girls stronger protection from the atrocity of female genital mutilation," Andrea G. Bottner, senior adviser to advocacy group Independent Women's Voice and former State Department official, told Fox News. "We are grateful this administration is making sure no girl should ever have to face this horror in her lifetime."
The law ultimately empowers federal law enforcement to prosecute perpetrators of female genital mutilation (FGM), increases the punishment from five to 10 years' imprisonment, and requires government agencies to estimate the number of women and girls impacted by or at risk of FGM in the U.S. and report their actions taken to end the practice.
"The STOP FGM Act will finally offer young women and girls stronger protection from the horror of female genital mutilation. No girl should ever have to face this in her lifetime. The bipartisan nature of this legislation shows that when it comes to the safety of young girls, politics shouldn't matter," Bottner added in a statement.
An estimated 8,000 girls endure FGM – a practice entailing the full or partial slicing out of female genitals – worldwide every day. More than 3 million are forced to endure it annually.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies the procedure as a severe human rights violation with no medical benefits. Rather, it brings with it extreme physical and emotional health consequences from sexual dysfunction, incontinence and increased risk of HIV transmission to the risk of infection and uncontrolled bleeding.
FGM is considered not to be a religious practice but rather a cultural one designed to ensure girls retain their "purity" before marriage despite its grave ramifications.
"In an incredibly difficult year, the little girls in our country who are vulnerable to this painful practice were not forgotten," Ayaan Hirsi Ali, founder of AHA Foundation and FGM survivor, said in a statement. "The STOP FGM Act is a strong bill that makes it clear that in this country, we do not tolerate this practice, and we will not stand idly by as girls are cut."
According to Congress, it is "a form of child abuse, gender discrimination and violence against women and girls," and a "global problem whose eradication requires international cooperation and enforcement at the national level."
"The United States should demonstrate its commitment to the rights of women and girls by leading the way in the international community in banning this abhorrent practice," the newly-inked bill states.
And it's far from a problem only plaguing countries far and wide. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that approximately 513,000 women and girls have experienced FGM or are at risk of being subjected to FGM and its consequences on U.S. soil.
The issue garnered significant stateside attention and outrage after a Michigan judge ruled in November 2018 that a 1996 U.S. federal law banning FGM was "unconstitutional" – thus dropping critical charges against practitioners accused of performing FGM on nine young girls.
According to Bottner, the STOP FGM Act of 2020 will strengthen current law, especially in ensuring that the commercial clause is explicit that it will not be tolerated.
"We are raising awareness and making it very well known that this practice will not occur in the United States," she added.