Kudos to Senegal for ending the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) as reported by the New York Times last weekend. Leadership on this issue needs to come from Africa and so it is very encouraging to see Senegal act so decisively.
However, in places like Sudan and Somalia 90% of the girls are still subjected to it. The international community should not sit idly by waiting for deep-seated cultural traditions to change at the expense of hundreds of thousands of girls. So here is my message to you, International Criminal Court (ICC): prosecute FGM as a crime against humanity. It is plain and simple torture (I refuse to euphamize it by calling it a “practice”) committed against underaged girls. To qualify as a crime against humanity, it must be part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. You are covered, ICC. FGM is prevalent in 27 countries and the World Health Organization estimates that 100-140 million women live with its after-effects. It is perpetrated against the vast majority of girls in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and substantial numbers in parts of Egypt and Kenya. If you are Sudanese girl of twelve, it is a virtual certainty that one day soon you will held down and against your will and without anesthesia your clitoris will be cut out with a razor and your legs tied together for days. And that girl would consider herself lucky she wasn’t subjected to the more severe form of FGM.
Lucky for you ICC, you have several options at your disposal. FGM would qualify as torture (article 7(1)(f)), sexual violence (article 7(1)(g)), persecution based on gender (article 7(1)(h)) and other inhumane acts (article 7(1)(k)). So buck-up, muster some righteous indignation and prosecute away. Rest assured that it is no defense at the ICC that a criminal act is also a cultural traditional. Slavery was once a global norm but we nonetheless criminalized it. ICC, you should not be deterred by the fact that FGM is often committed by a girl’s own family members or community. It was also seen as normal at one time for parents to sell a child into slavery to settle a debt. (Heck, some parents still try to do this.) We did not carve out an exception in the prohibition of slavery for a parental prerogative.
Finally ICC, don’t be dissuaded from prosecuting FGM by the argument that prosecuting it is a form of neocolonialism. If ending the torture of little girls is a new form of colonialism, I welcome it. In fact, hand me a pith helmet and I’ll wear it with pride.