Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
As in all Maasai villages, women and girls remain severely marginalized by a cultural tradition that does not value girls’ education. Girls are regularly married off at a young age after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful and dangerous rite of passage into adulthood.
The Maasai are a polygamist tribe, and many young girls become second or third wives to men two or three times their age. Most girls are married shortly after puberty when they undergo FGM, where a part or all of the external female genitalia is removed. The practice occurs frequently throughout the Maasai community in both Kenya and Tanzania. It is believed that the cutting ceremony transforms girls into women and makes them pure for marriage, increasing their bridal price in turn.
Girls are expected to assume the role of a wife and mother at a young age. These girls face extreme pressure to immediately have children after marriage, contributing to the rate of early pregnancy throughout Maasai communities. Because their bodies are not yet mature enough for childbirth, these young mothers are unduly susceptible to fatal complications during pregnancy.
These girls are also subjected to domestic violence and the few in school tend to have high school dropout rates. They lack access to healthcare facilities and they are not made aware of the importance of prenatal health care. Additionally, early sexual intercourse puts them at higher risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections because their more sexually experienced husbands are likely to be carriers for such infections.
Education is one way to stop FGM. Education teaches the community about the adverse consequences of the destructive ritual in addition to teaching the community’s young girls that they have the right to say no. Keep Girls Safe Foundation will give its girls the tools to stand up for themselves by providing them a safe haven to learn and grow into strong, independent women.
Is female genital mutilation practiced in the United States?
Research conducted by the African Women’s Health Center of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that approximately 228,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either suffered the procedure or are at risk of FGM, a number that increased by approximately 35% between 1990 and 2000.
FGM is a private ritual that occurs within the secrecy of the family. Therefore, there is no way of knowing its true prevalence in the U.S. While there have been few reported cases of FGM being performed in the U.S., authorities suspect that actual occurrences are frequent and simply go unreported.
Is FGM a crime?
Yes, FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
In January 2013, the federal FGM law was amended by the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, which prohibits knowingly transporting a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing FGM (Vacation cutting). The Act was designed to address the problem of “vacation cutting,” in which girls living in the United States are taken to their parents’ country of origin (typically during summer breaks) to undergo the procedure. Under the new federal law, anyone found guilty of doing so may be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
FGM is also a crime in the following 22 states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Keep Girls Safe Foundation will continue to raise awareness in the United States, educating the community about female genital mutilation, while simultaneously seeking to identity and protect children at risk of vacation cutting.