Vacation Cutting America Matters Stop FGM

By Shireen Qudosi

Summer and winter breaks are a coveted tradition that almost every American child looks forward to. It’s a time to rest the mind and body, to indulge in hobbies and retreats, and to spend time with loved ones.

Yet, in some communities across America, girls face a much harsher reality: becoming a victim of “vacation cutting.” Used as a euphemism, “vacation cutting” describes illegal trips taken abroad by some American families, so they can mutilate their daughters. Far from the typical vacation that brings happiness and joy, these trips leave girls with parts of their genitalia removed and a lifetime of physical and emotional pain. The ritual is done during their prepubescent years in an effort to preemptively curb the girl’s burgeoning sexuality, and is believed to be a primer for the ‘proper’ domestication of women by advocates of the practice.

Under U.S. federal law, the procedure is illegal and described by statute as female genital mutilation (FGM). Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 116 prohibits “knowingly circumcis[ing], excis[ing], or infibulate[ing] the whole or any part of the labia major or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.”

As of 2015, 24 US states have specific laws against FGM.[5][12] States that do not have such laws can prosecute FGM under statutes criminalizing other acts, such as assault, battery or child abuse. Supported by Equality Now, the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act was passed in January 2013, and prohibits knowingly transporting a girl out of the U.S. for the purpose of undergoing FGM.

FGM Survivor Recounts her “Vacation Cut”

Speaking with ABC News, FGM survivor and activist, Mariya Taher, bravely recounted her “vacation cut” during a family trip to Mumbai, India, from their home in the United States when she was just seven-years-old.

“I remember being taken to an old-looking building and going up a flight of stairs and going into the apartment building,” Taher said. “I remember being put on the ground, and my dress was pulled up, and I remember something sharp cut me.”

FGM happens right here at home too. Taher’s sister underwent FGM in their home state of California. Now, Taher is an anti-FGM activist, who runs the Boston chapter of Sahiyo, an organization based in India that seeks to end the practice in all communities, including the Dawoodi Bohra community, which survivors like Taher and the Michigan victims are from.

The procedure involves a painful razor cut. For some girls, the bleeding is stanched with dust and victims may or may not receive local anesthesia. Lengthy holiday breaks provide ample time to travel and ‘recover’  thus, FGM activists coin summer and even winter breaks as “cutting season.”

Sahiyo urges professionals who interact with children, like teachers and doctors, to be aware of the practice of vacation cutting and the language used to describe it, in order to educate the public on the harm FGM does to girls, and highlight the illegality of the practice.

Teachers Can Be a Lifeline for FGM Victims

With proper training, teachers and other professionals in regular contact with young girls can advocate for suspected victims of vacation cutting. Survivor and activist, Hibo Wardere, explains some girls returning from an episode of vacation cutting may confide in a teacher, or exhibit odd behaviors that trained adults should be on the lookout for. Older girls may describe their trip as a period of “rehabilitation,” where the girl may have also participated in religious or cultural indoctrination to normalize the experience. These environments are also often accepting of domestic abuse, and some victims of FGM may also be forcibly married during the trip. Wardere’s advice to teachers is to get to know these girls and listen for red flag language.

Wardere adds, “If a girl says she had a party to become a woman, that is huge red signal that FGM has taken place or a member of her family has been cut.”

“They Come Back and They’re Different”

Late this summer, the Royal College of Midwives, in collaboration with FGM survivors and like-minded organizations, launched a powerful three-part series on FGM. Part 3, entitled, “It’s Our Time Now,” gives a first-hand account of how one girl’s life changed after enduring vacation cutting. The more we’re educated on how it is performed in secrecy, the more we can do to stop FGM.

Sign the petition to stop FGM in your state. For more, follow @StopFGM on Twitter.