As her aunt held her down, the child screamed and fought desperately to escape. But even as she struggled, the woman sliced at the child’s genitals with a razor, sending blood coursing down her legs. Years later, the girl recalled, “They tied my legs together the whole way down so I couldn’t open my legs. I was like that for three or four weeks.”
She was only 6 years old.
Two hundred million women worldwide have endured similar torture through female genital mutilation (FGM), or are at risk of becoming victims. Yet last month, a Michigan judge ruled that laws preventing such torture and abuse of girls were unconstitutional, raising the risk of genital cutting for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable girls across America.
The decision, passed down in a case involving the prosecution of two doctors who performed the procedure in a suburban Detroit clinic, addressed a 1996 federal ban on FGM, which U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman claimed overstepped congressional power. The Federalism clause permits the federal government authority only over criminal cases involving interstate commerce, which Friedman argued was inapplicable in this case. Nor, he said, is there a “rational relationship” between federal equal rights treaties and a ban on FGM, as it only affects women.
Rather, the judge argued, the power to ban FGM, like other criminal law, lies with the states; and while Michigan does have such a statute in place, it was instated after the doctors and the mothers of nine girls had been arrested and charged. Friedman therefore dismissed those charges.