3 Dec 2010

American Academy of Pediatrics issue new policy that essentially promotes female genital mutilation

PRNewswire-USNewswire - May 5, 2010

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Is Advocating for U.S. Pediatricians to Perform Certain Types of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)


NEW YORK, May 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- International human rights organization Equality Now is stunned by a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which essentially promotes female genital mutilation (FGM) and advocates for "federal and state laws [to] enable pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a 'ritual nick'," such as pricking or minor incisions of girls' clitorises. The Policy Statement "Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors", issued by the AAP on April 26, 2010, is a significant set-back to the Academy's own prior statements on the issue of FGM and is antithetical to decades of noteworthy advancement across Africa and around the world in combating this human rights violation against women and girls. It is ironic that the AAP issued its statement the very same day that Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) announced the introduction of new bipartisan legislation, The Girls Protection Act (H.R. 5137), to close the loophole in the federal law prohibiting FGM by making it illegal to transport a minor girl living in the U.S. out of the country for the purpose of FGM.

FGM is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and is carried out across Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and by immigrants of practicing communities living around the world, including in Europe and the U.S. It is estimated that up to 140 million women and girls around the world are affected by FGM. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated in 1997 that over 168,000 girls and women living in the U.S. have either been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM.

FGM is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination that is performed on girls to control their sexuality in womanhood, guarantee their acceptance into a particular community, and safeguard their virginity until marriage. Taina Bien-Aime, Equality Now's Executive Director explains, "Encouraging pediatricians to perform FGM under the notion of 'cultural sensitivity' shows a shocking lack of understanding of a girl's fundamental right to bodily integrity and equality. The AAP should promote awareness-raising within FGM-practicing immigrant communities about the harms of the practice, instead of endorsing an internationally recognized human rights violation against girls and women."

The current policy is a regression from the AAP's 1998 policy statement Female Genital Mutilation and raises great concern because it denotes a clear shift in addressing the issue. The World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have unequivocally opposed FGM as a "medically unnecessary" practice, and it is widely recognized that all types of FGM are a form of gender-based violence. Stemming from this perspective, the AAP's 1998 statement sees the practice as a human rights violation, opposes all forms of FGM, and cautions pediatricians about their role in "perpetuating a social practice with cultural implications for the status of women." In contrast, the new 2010 statement no longer uses the term "female genital mutilation" but refers to the practice as "female genital cutting (FGC) or ritual genital cutting," makes no reference to the discriminatory aspect of FGM, and selectively opposes only those forms of FGM that in its view "pose the risk of physical or psychological harm."

Taina Bien-Aime adds, "Throughout the ages 'cultural' practices like foot binding in China have caused lifelong physical and psychological harm to women and girls. If foot binding were still being carried out, would the AAP encourage pediatricians to execute a milder version of this practice?"

The AAP's proposition that pediatricians could offer to "nick" girls' genitalia is problematic and troubling. Advocates also fear that mothers who have until now resisted community pressure and not subjected their daughters to FGM in the U.S., in part because of the anti-FGM law, could be forced under the AAP guidelines to ask pediatricians to "nick" their daughters' clitorises if it is legally permitted. The AAP must revoke its statement, which comes at a time when several African and European countries have noted the increasing dangers of medicalization of FGM and specifically banned medical personnel from performing any form of FGM.

Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the civil, political, economic and social rights of girls and women around the world. For more information visit www.equalitynow.org.

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CNN - May 27, 2010
Pediatricians now reject all female genital cutting

By Stephanie Chen | CNN

(CNN) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics has rescinded a controversial policy statement raising the idea that doctors in some communities should be able to substitute demands for female genital cutting with a harmless clitoral "pricking" procedure.

"We retracted the policy because it is important that the world health community understands the AAP is totally opposed to all forms of female genital cutting, both here in the U.S. and anywhere else in the world," said AAP President Judith S. Palfrey.

The contentious policy statement, issued in April, had condemned the practice of female genital cutting overall. But a small portion of statement suggesting the pricking procedure riled U.S. advocacy groups and survivors of female genital cutting.

In the April statement, the group raised the idea that some physicians should be able to prick or nick a girl's clitoral skin in order to "satisfy cultural requirements." The group likened the nick to an ear piercing.

On Thursday the AAP stated the group will not condone doctors to provide any kind of "clitoral nick." The AAP also clarified nicking a girl or woman's genitals is forbidden under a 1996 federal law banning female genital mutilation.

"I cried and told them how grateful I am," said Soraya Mire, a Somali filmmaker and survivor of female genital cutting. "Thank you for understanding us survivors and hearing our voices."

Equality Now, an international advocacy group fighting to end female genital cutting, echoed a similarly appreciative response.

"We welcome the AAP's decision to withdraw its 2010 policy statement on FGM," said Lakshmi Anantnarayan, a spokeswoman at Equality Now. "This is a crucial step forward in the movement to raise awareness about female genital mutilation."

Up to 140 million women and children worldwide have been affected by female genital cutting, according to the World Health Organization. Any process that alters or injures female genitalia for non-medical purposes is considered to be female genital cutting, the group says.

Female genital cutting -- also referred to as female genital mutilation and female circumcision -- is a ritual dating back thousands of years. It's typically practiced in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In some communities, it's strongly believed that genital cutting marks a woman's journey to adulthood. The WHO reports that cutting typically occurs between infancy and 15 years of age.

Several types of female circumcision exist and may differ in each community, according to the WHO. The most brutal type of cutting requires stitching together the inner or outer labia. It's a procedure notoriously performed in parts of Somalia and Egypt. Other less-severe forms of genital cutting may require excising the entire clitoris or part of the clitoris.

Mire, the Somali filmmaker and survivor, received the most severe type of circumcision when she was 13 years old in her home country. She now lives in Los Angeles, California, where she helps African immigrant families in the United States, who she believes may be subjected to the pressures of female genital cutting.

While the female circumcision is outlawed in the United States, Mire and other advocates believe there are American girls in immigrant communities at risk of being sent overseas to have the procedure completed. The AAP's original policy statement increased the threat of cutting among immigrant and refugee girls in the U.S., advocacy efforts say, because the group suggested a "pricking" compromise was acceptable.

In the U.S., an estimated 228,000 women have been cut -- or are at risk of being cut -- because they come from an ethnic community that practices female genital cutting, according an analysis of 2000 Census data conducted by the African Women's Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Last month, Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-New York, and Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-California, addressed concerns of female genital cutting being planned on U.S. grounds. The legislators proposed an amendment to the existing law that would imprison parents who send their daughters overseas for the procedure.

Mire said she was in disbelief when she first read the AAP's original statement about six weeks ago. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't eat. She's dedicated her time to calling legislators, survivors and advocacy groups to pressure AAP to change its original policy statements.

Her efforts worked, she learned on Wednesday from a personal phone call from the academy.

"I slept so well last night," she said. "I woke up smiling."

Read about the pressures of female genital cutting in the U.S.

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