[Report] Women and Girls at Risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States
The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) data included in this data brief are preliminary. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on female genital mutilation/cutting in the United States also will be released soon, providing additional information on women and girls at risk.
(February 2015) Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), involving partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth. This type of violence against women violates women’s human rights. There are more than 3 million girls, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, who are at risk of cutting/mutilation each year. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. Some countries in Africa have recently outlawed the practice, including Guinea-Bissau, but progress in eliminating the harmful traditional practice has been slow.1 Although FGM/C is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, global migration patterns have increased the risk of FGM/C among women and girls living in developed countries, including the United States.
Increasingly, policymakers, NGOs, and community leaders are speaking out against this harmful traditional practice. As more information becomes available about the practice, it is clear that FGM/C needs to be unmasked and challenged around the world.
The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice.2 Despite decades of work in the United States and globally to prevent FGM/C, it remains a significant harmful tradition for millions of girls and women. In the last few years, renewed efforts to protect girls from undergoing this procedure globally and in immigrant populations have resulted in policy successes. In Great Britain and in other European countries, a groundswell of attention has focused on eradicating the practice among the large immigrant populations of girls and women who have been cut or are at risk of being cut. Moreover, in 2012 the 67th session of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution urging states to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, especially FGM/C. The UN resolution was a significant step toward ending the practice around the world.
In the United States, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters to their home countries to be cut led to a 2013 law making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting. FGM/C has gained attention in the United States in part because of the rising number of immigrants from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2000 and 2013, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million.3
The Risk of FGM/C in the United States
In 2013, there were up to 507,000 U.S. women and girls who had undergone FGM/C or were at risk of the procedure, according to PRB’s preliminary data analysis. This figure is more than twice the number of women and girls estimated to be at risk in 2000 (228,000).4 The rapid increase in women and girls at risk reflects an increase in immigration to the United States, rather than an increase in the share of women and girls at risk of being cut. The estimated U.S. population at risk of FGM/C is calculated by applying country- and age-specific FGM/C prevalence rates to the number of U.S. women and girls with ties to those countries. A detailed description of PRB’s methods to estimate women and girls at risk of FGM/C is available.
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