Bill Co-sponsored by Smith Against Female Genital Mutilation Passes House
Builds Upon Smith’s Previous Legislation
The House today passed legislation by Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI) and co-sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) that increases the penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM) in the U.S., a practice that the World Health Organization regards as a human rights violation and one that Smith has spoken out against in the past.
Seventeen years ago, Smith’s landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, P.L. 106-386, highlighted female genital mutilation as a crime targeting immigrant women and children, and underscored that these victims “must be able to report these crimes to law enforcement and fully participate in the investigation of the crimes committed against them and the prosecution of the perpetrators of such crimes.”
“Despite current federal law prohibiting this practice, an estimated 500,000 young girls in the U.S. have been victims of female genital mutilation or are in danger of being subjected to this abuse,” Rep. Smith, Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, stated. “This forced mutilation is painful, carries long-term health risks, and serves no positive health benefits. We must do more to protect our young girls from this harmful and fundamentally misguided practice.”
The Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act (HR 3317) would triple penalties for performing female genital mutilation from 5 to 15 years in prison, and it would call on states to have reporting requirements for suspected cases of mutilation.
The practice of female genital mutilation—defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as including “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”— is “a violation of the human rights of girls and women,” according to WHO. It has been illegal in the United States since 1997.
Yet over 200 million women have been mutilated in 30 countries in Africa and Asia, and including in the United States, where an estimated 500,000 girls under the age of 13 have had the procedure or who are in danger of being mutilated.
Smith also co-sponsored HR 941, the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995, which prohibited and penalized the practice of FGM except in cases where it was performed by a medical professional for the health of the patient, and directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to investigate the number of cases of FGM in the U.S. and conduct outreach and education to communities where it is practiced.
Because of Smith’s efforts in the 1990s, USAID in 2000 made the abandonment of the practice part of its development agenda and education to counter FGM worldwide was implemented into USAID training; the agency has also worked to stop the practice of FGM in African communities in its health and education programs.