U.S. House Passes Resolution Officially Recognizing Female Genital Mutilation as a 'Human Rights Violation'

Members of African Gay and Lesbian communities demonstrate against female genital mutilation (FGM), at the Nairobi World Social Forum in Kasarani, Nairobi, Kenya, on January 23, 2007. FGM and cutting take place across cultures and religions around the world. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty

The House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan resolution denouncing the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and recognizing it as a human rights violation against women and girls.

"Today we're sending a clear message that every girl, no matter where she's born, has a right to live free of violence," Democratic Representative Lois Frankel, of Florida, who introduced the bill alongside Republican Representative Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, said on Tuesday.

"This bipartisan resolution recognizes that FGM/C is a gross human rights violation holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential," she said.

In their resolution, which passed unanimously with a 393 to 0 vote, which was co-sponsored by 28 congress members, lawmakers call on the U.S. government, as well as the international community to undertake coordinated efforts "to eliminate the harmful practice."

"We'll continue to demand an end to the horrific practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, justice for its victims, and protection for our girls," said Representative Perry. "I'm pleased by the bipartisan effort," he said, before thanking Frankel for her "diligence to bring to the full House our resolution condemning the reprehensible and subjugating practice of FGM."

As it stands, an estimated 200 million girls and women have been victims of female genital mutilation and cutting, with more than 3 million estimated to be at risk of being cut each year.

The practice, which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is tied to a number of traditions but is not connected with any one culture or religion, with the practice occurring around the world and across religious groups and cultures.

In the U.S., as many as 513,000 women and girls were estimated to have been at risk or subjected to FGM in 2016, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

FGM typically takes place among cultures and sects that hold the belief that undergoing the procedure will improve a woman or girl's eligibility for marriage. The practice is typically aimed at inhibiting a woman's sexual feelings by either partially or fully removing the female genitals. There are zero health benefits to the practice and it often results in long-term pain and complications for women and girls forced or pressured to undergo it.

Health risks associated with FGM include severe pain, painful menstruation and intercourse, tissue swelling, excessive bleeding, urinary and vaginal infections, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

For expectant mothers, the procedure can cause childbirth complications and even newborn death, with WHO noting that the death rate among babies during and immediately after birth is "much higher" for those born to mothers who have undergone FGM.

The resolution to denounce female genital mutilation and cutting as a human rights violation comes months after a district court ruling in November declared U.S. laws against FGM unconstitutional, with charges dropped against two doctors accused of carrying out the procedure.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman asserted that Congress did not have the authority to outlaw the procedure and that that authority rested with states. In seeking to ban the practice, Friedman said that "as despicable as [FGM] may be," Congress had "overstepped its bounds."