State Letter #07-11
Female Genital Cutting (FGC)
TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS
STATE REFUGEE HEALTH COORDINATORS
NATIONAL VOLUNTARY AGENCIES
OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES
FROM: Martha E. Newton
Office of Refugee Resettlement
SUBJECT: Female Genital Cutting (FGC)
ORR has received a number of varied inquiries about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, and now more commonly referred to as Female Genital Cutting (FGC). The purpose of this letter is to provide basic information about the practice, health consequences, and legalities of FGC. Resources for additional information and recommendations for resettlement workers are also included.
What is the Practice and Where Does it Occur?
The practice of FGC is widespread in Africa but also appears elsewhere. The practice involves cutting away some or all of the girl’s external genitalia. The more extreme forms of cutting are usually accompanied by sewing up the vaginal opening leaving a small space for urination and passage of menstrual flow.
Is FGC Required by Islam?
Although many Muslims who practice FGC believe it is required by Islam, FGC is a cultural practice, not a religious requirement.
What are the Health Consequences of FGC?
The health consequences of FGC can be serious. First, there is a danger of uncontrolled bleeding and infection as a consequence of the cutting. In the aftermath of the more severe forms of FGC, the girl or woman often experiences chronic urinary infections and difficulty in urinating and discharging menstrual blood. Also, the tearing of FGC scar tissue during sexual intercourse increases the risk of acquiring sexually-transmitted diseases
Secondly, infibulations can cause significant psychosocial and medical problems. For example, refugee girls who have been infibulated, may require a significant period of time to urinate. This has sometimes led to misunderstandings in school, resulting in girls being accused of engaging in unauthorized activities while they were supposed to be in the bathroom. Infibulated girls and women sometimes develop fistulas that interconnect the vaginal and anal passages. Infibulated women often experience difficult child birth.
Finally, there may be negative psychological and emotional consequences associated with FGC. FGC is typically performed on very young girls. Some may not understand what is being done to them or why.
Is it Legal in the United States?
Federal law prohibits anyone in the United States knowingly circumcising, excising or infibulating the genitals of any child under 18 years of age.
It is not illegal for a woman or girl whose genitals have been cut to enter the United States. It is not illegal for someone who has performed FGC to enter the United States .
Recommendations to address the practice of FGC within refugee populations:
Refugees should be informed of the adverse health consequences of FGC, in addition to the legal consequences. The following are some suggested mechanisms of disseminating this information to refugee communities:
- Establish community campaigns to inform refugees of the adverse consequences of FGC, and
- Establish educational campaigns to inform mainstream refugee service providers of the potential health problems that may emerge as a result of FGC, in particular pertaining to reproductive health.
For additional information and technical assistance regarding female genital cutting in refugee populations, please contact Marta Brenden at the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services at (202) 205-3589 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also ask that you communicate your observations and concerns to your ORR State Analyst either by email, or within the context of your Quarterly Performance Report (QPR) Schedule A Narrative.