Some physicians, including pediatricians who work closely with immigrant populations in which FGC is the norm, have voiced concern about the adverse effects of criminalization of the practice on educational efforts. These physicians emphasize the significance of a ceremonial ritual in the initiation of the girl or adolescent as a community member and advocate only pricking or incising the clitoral skin as sufficient to satisfy cultural requirements. This is no more of an alteration than ear piercing. A legitimate concern is that parents who are denied the cooperation of a physician will send their girls back to their home country for a much more severe and dangerous procedure or use the services of a non–medically trained person in North America. In some countries in which FGC [female genital cutting] is common, some progress toward eradication or amelioration has been made by substituting ritual "nicks" for more severe forms. In contrast, there is also evidence that medicalizing FGC can prolong the custom among middle-class families (eg, in Egypt). Many anti-FGC activists in the West, including women from African countries, strongly oppose any compromise that would legitimize even the most minimal procedure. There is also some evidence (eg, in Scandinavia) that a criminalization of the practice, with the attendant risk of losing custody of one's children, is one of the factors that led to abandonment of this tradition among Somali immigrants. The World Health Organization and other international health organizations are silent on the pros and cons of pricking or minor incisions. The option of offering a "ritual nick" is currently precluded by US federal law, which makes criminal any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals of a female minor.Thoughts? Is it better to allow a "ritual nick" in order to theoretically prevent more extensive, and more dangerous, genital mutilation? Or is it ethically/morally wrong to support any form of FGM? How might these arguments apply to male genital mutilation (i.e., circumcision)?
The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on newborn male circumcision expresses respect for parental decision-making and acknowledges the legitimacy of including cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions when making the choice of whether to surgically alter a male infant's genitals. Of course, parental decision-making is not without limits, and pediatricians must always resist decisions that are likely to cause harm to children. Most forms of FGC are decidedly harmful, and pediatricians should decline to perform them, even in the absence of any legal constraints. However, the ritual nick suggested by some pediatricians is not physically harmful and is much less extensive than routine newborn male genital cutting. There is reason to believe that offering such a compromise may build trust between hospitals and immigrant communities, save some girls from undergoing disfiguring and life-threatening procedures in their native countries, and play a role in the eventual eradication of FGC. It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.
Efforts should be made to use all available educational and counseling resources to dissuade parents from seeking a ritual genital procedure for their daughter. For circumstances in which an infant, child, or adolescent seems to be at risk of FGC, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that its members educate and counsel the family about the detrimental health effects of FGC. Parents should be reminded that performing FGC is illegal and constitutes child abuse in the United States.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
An article in The New York Times recently reported that the AAP supports legalizing the option of performing a "ritual nick" in order to prevent parents from taking their daughters overseas for more extensive genital cutting. I was curious to read the reasoning behind this position, so I looked up the AAP Policy Statement on Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors, recently revised in May 2010. Here is an excerpt concerned with legalizing a small "nick" or pinprick: