Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the name given to cultural practices that involve the complete or partial removal of the external genitalia. Today, it is mainly practiced in African countries and a few Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Eighteen African countries have prevalence rates of 50% or higher, but these estimates vary by country and ethnic group.1 The cutting can be performed as early as infancy and as late as age thirty; however, girls most commonly experience FGM between the ages of 4 and 12.2 An estimated 100 million to 140 million women today have undergone FGM, and an additional three million girls and women are subjected to it each year.3 Women who have undergone FGM experience a 50 percent greater likelihood that they or their baby will die during childbirth 4

Franca’s Story

Franca, a native of Nigeria, was an accomplished banker and businesswoman. Franca and her husband had a son and two daughters, the youngest of whom was diagnosed with dwarfism at an early age. Her husband’s family blamed Franca’s refusal to have her daughters circumcised for her youngest daughter’s “disease.” They demanded that the child undergo a spiritual cleansing ritual that would involve burying her up to her neck, whipping her legs with a cane, and cutting her genitals. They also demanded that Franca’s oldest daughter undergo female genital cutting.

Franca refused to submit to these horrific demands. While she was futilely seeking protection from the government, some of her husband’s family members began stalking her. One day, they appeared unannounced at her home, threatening to take her children by force. Soon after, Franca pulled her children from school, fled her home, and stayed with various friends. Local NGOs advised her to leave the country. Franca liquidated all her possessions and purchased plane tickets to the United States.

Franca fled Nigeria in March 2005 and came to Tahirih just days after arriving in the United States, where she was living in a half-finished condo in Maryland with no heat, furniture, or appliances. Tahirih succeeded in getting Franca and her children into a homeless shelter and, with the support of Crowell & Moring, worked to secure justice for Franca and her family. Franca and her children were granted asylum on August 30, 2005. Fearing persecution, to this day, they have not returned to visit Nigeria.

1US Department of Health and Human Services, The National Women’s Health Information Center, http://womenshealth.gov/faq/fgc.htm, last visited June 12, 2007. Quoting, N. Toubia, Caring for Women with Circumcision, (New York, NY: RAINBO, 1999) and A. Rahman & N. Toubia, N. Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide (London, UK: Zed Books Ltd, 2000).

2Center for Reproductive Rights, International Factsheets, http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/pub_fac_fgm_0307.pdf, last visited June 8, 2007.

3WHO, Female Genital Mutilation Factsheet, http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/fgm/, last visited June 8, 2007.

4Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Genital Cutting Raises by 50% Likelihood Mothers or Their Newborns Will Die, Study Finds,” The New York Times, June 2, 2006. Quoting, N. Eke and K. Nkanginieme, “Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetric Outcome,” The Lancet 367, no. 9525: 1799-1800.

*Client’s name has been changed to protect privacy