P.O. Box 41, 4000 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6S 2T7
August 25, 2015
Two weeks ago, in the midst of the summer heat, I got a frantic call from a woman in Ottawa who teaches a second language (ESL) to immigrants. She knew me from the documentary ” Honor Diaries ,” which addresses honor-based violence and urgently sought my advice on the situation: one of her ESL students had just told her he was taking care of his five-year-old daughter back to his native country in Africa to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The male student did not use the word FGM . Instead, he said his daughter would be “circumcised” – the custom in his family and tribe. The ESL teacher had tried to dissuade him, but he told her that he had no idea about his culture. He told her, essentially, that she should butt out.
This phenomenon – taking children back to their home country – is called “vacation cutting.” FGM is a horrendous, harmful and painful cultural practice which involves the removal of a girl’s genitalia, ostensibly as a rite of sexuality. FGM can cause girls and women to become ill, become infertile, suffer permanent physical and psychological damage and sometimes die from the side effects.
Many immigrants from Africa take their daughters back to their home country during FGM performed on them. Most of these girls will remain under the radar until a medical doctor sees them. In most cases they do not see a doctor at all and practice largely unreported.
The teacher’s ESL teacher posed a huge conundrum. I suggest she contact social services, but she had already done that. They told her they did not intervene in a case when no crime has been committed. I called the government department that deals with laws against barbaric practices, and they suggest contacting law enforcement. However law enforcement can not do anything about crimes taking place outside of Canada.
Although FGM is illegal in Canada, the practice continues among immigrant communities. In 2011, nearly 29,000 women from Africa and the Middle East became permanent residents of Canada. FGM by the end of the summer is a female doctor who has worked with hundreds of women under the age of 17. Thousands more are at risk.
In the United States, the problem of FGM is no better. According to the latest statistics from the Population Reference Bureau , more than half a million girls and women are at risk of FGM.
For years, FGM remained on the back burner at the United Nations because it was a ‘taboo’ subject. No one wanted to speak about it.
One country that has made progress in stopping this terrible practice is Burkina Faso, where three out of four girls and women have undergone FGM. Burkina Faso First Lady Chantal Compaore began an African-led movement for change, resulting in a global assembly. FGM in its country for more than 20 years, resolving to help eradicate FGM within one generation.
In the United States and Canada, we need more awareness and education about the practice of FGM to ensure that everyone – from policy makers to educators – is aware of the practice. We need to shine a light on this practice, with public discussion about ways to stop this cruel “summer vacation” phenomenon.
While the five-year old is about to be saved from FGM, we can stop this, and we’re going to be able to do that, educating, empowering and finally eradicating this dreadful practice.