It's time for legislators in Jackson, Mississippi, to pass FGM crime legislation so the Hospitality State is inhospitable to those who promote female genital mutilation.
The state of Mississippi proudly boasts that it is "the Hospitality State," known for its friendly people and welcoming culture. However, child advocates are increasingly concerned that Mississippi is isolated as the lone Southern state not to have a female genital mutilation (FGM) criminal statute – or at least one in the works.
Mississippi is bordered by Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, which all have strong FGM laws; and its other eastern neighbor, Alabama, expects to pass strong FGM legislation soon. As such, Mississippi – without any FGM criminalization laws – risks the dubious distinction and danger of being a lure for female genital mutilators. The Hospitality State remains a standout in the South without the necessary protections for little girls from the barbaric procedure of FGM.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 513,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk for female genital mutilation. This hideous and violent assault on innocent little girls is growing in the U.S. with the increase of migrants from FGM-practicing countries in Africa and the Middle East. As the World Health Organization points out, there are no health benefits from this procedure, but there are long-lasting emotional and physical health consequences related to this practice.
In January 2019, as a result of a judge finding the federal FGM law unconstitutional on a technicality, the demand on all 50 states to pass FGM legislation is ever more urgent and pressing. Without tough state criminal laws punishing this ancient barbaric practice, little girls are without any protection from it, and FGM will continue to flourish.
Like human trafficking, people travel to places where mutilators reside, especially to states that have not outlawed FGM. This underground and covert network seeks out states where FGM is not a crime, so as to avoid prosecution and detection. Without an FGM law on the books, Mississippi stands out in the South as an oasis for this vile practice. Mississippians are rightly proud of their "Hospitality State," but without an FGM law, they will be welcoming female genital mutilation.
The civil rights movement found its home in Mississippi. The struggle to free slaves and to restore civil rights to all citizens remains a powerful history in the Deep South. So, too, the United Nations has deemed female genital mutilation as a violation of a human right. Mississippi lawmakers and citizens should be especially concerned that the human right to be free of FGM is not enshrined in state law.
It's time for legislators in Jackson to pass FGM crime legislation so the Hospitality State is inhospitable to those who promote female genital mutilation.
Elizabeth Yore is an international child protection attorney who investigates child abuse and human rights violations. She heads the national initiative EndFGMToday.com.
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