In late November, news outlets, prominent politicians and social media united in uproar against the ruling of a senior US district judge on a hot-button topic. The judge found a federal law banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) unconstitutional, dismissing charges against two doctors accused of performing the practice on young girls in Michigan. Many feared the judgment abandoned children’s rights in favor of appeasing religious and cultural sentiments.
But does this decision really sanction the practice of FGM in the United States? In short – No.
The issue, according to the judge, concerned Congress overstepping their bounds by attempting to legislate FGM; such authority is held by individual states. Judge Bernard Friedman writes in his decision, “As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault.”
While the issue of child pornography is within federal power, criminal assault, and therefore child abuse, is not – thus the authority to make laws on FGM is beyond the power of Congress. Friedman notes, “As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be… federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute.” This does not necessarily mark a regression of US law-making, but highlights one of its many limitations. Whether this is a good, bad, or even necessary attribute is debatable.
For now, these laws are up to the state to decide. Unfortunately, almost half the states in the US have yet to criminalize FGM. Organizations like the AHA Foundation, established by ex-Muslim and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are working to protect young girls from suffering FGM. Read more about the AHA Foundation and their work here. Read the full decision of the district court here.