The Thin Line Between Surgery and Mutilation

Afshan Jafar is an associate professor of sociology at Connecticut College.

Last month, many were up in arms about the news that the Justice Department would not defend a federal prohibition on female genital mutilation that was thrown out by a lower court last fall. On Twitter, Hillary Clinton called the decision “outrageous”; hundreds seconded her tweet with words of disgust.

The department’s legal reasoning for not defending the prohibition is technical, but the response highlights the degree to which there is consensus about the abhorrent nature of female genital mutilation, which the World Health Organization defines as cutting of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons. Even in its decision to not defend the law, the department made sure to note the practice was “heinous” and should be “universally condemned.” In the wake of the lower-court ruling, state-level laws against the procedure — which carry severe penalties for both practitioners and parents, up to 20 years in prison in some states — have been proliferating.

As a society, we believe we are against the medically unnecessary modification of children’s genitalia. We think we are consistent in saying that parents’ fear of ostracism is not a valid excuse for this practice. Read more via New York Times