Excerpted From: Patricia A. Broussard, Female Genital Mutilation: Exploring Strategies for Ending Ritualized Torture; Shaming, Blaming, and Utilizing the Convention Against Torture, 15 Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy 19 (January, 2008) (149 Footnotes) (Full Document)

PatriciaABroussardTorture: tor ture (noun) Middle French, from Old French, from Late Latin tortura 1. a: anguish of body or mind: Agony b: something that causes agony or pain; 2: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure;3: distortion or over-refinement of a meaning or an argument. The phrase “female genital mutilation,” the practice of removing portions of females' genitalia, has made its way into the lexicon of the West in a horrific way. An article in the October 22, 2006 Atlanta Journal-Constitution started by stating, “A father stands accused of the unthinkable: brutally cutting his daughter's genitals. The girl was only two.” Those words were telling because, although this father's act was indeed brutal and also unthinkable to most Western readers, it was in fact, the repetition of a “social ritual” which has occurred on a yearly basis to millions of women, girls, and infants. The father, Khalid Adem, performed an African ritual known as FGM, a practice that is centuries old.

Adem, a native of Ethiopia, “circumcised” his two-year old daughter with a pair of scissors in his Duluth, Georgia apartment while his friend held her down. The young girl's mother did not discover that her daughter's clitoris had been severed until two years later. The State of Georgia prosecuted and convicted Adem of aggravated battery and cruelty to children. Georgia has since enacted a law which specifically forbids the practice of FGM. Adem faced forty years in prison, but was sentenced to only ten

Human rights groups from around the world watched this case closely, not only because they viewed it as a landmark case, but because it also presented an opportunity to shine a light on FGM, a custom which is viewed by many as barbaric torture.

However, Adem's was not the first case of FGM (although Adem was not technically charged with female genital mutilation, this was the term used in the media to describe the acts which he committed that comprised aggravated battery)prosecuted in the United States. On January 9, 2004, the United States Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the arrest of two California residents on the charges of conspiring to perform FGM on two young girls. One of the defendants bragged to undercover officers that he had performed more FGMs than anyone else in the Western world.

If there is anything good that emerges from these two cases, it is that they present an opportunity for further dialogue on the subject of FGM. Much has already been written on this topic, but thus far the dialogue has been limited to scholars and human rights organizations. These cases have put FGM on the front pages of newspapers around the world and made the subject accessible to the general public in the Western world.

It is the contention of this paper that FGM is a form of torture and that multiple strategies should be employed to eradicate it, including the Convention against Torture. It is only when there is extensive education, worldwide condemnation, shaming, and punishment for FGM that this practice will end. The author acknowledges that there is an ironic fact which complicates the position taken in this paper, and it is that the majority of acts of FGM are performed by women. In fact, in many African societies, the circumciser is an older woman who is past the age of childbearing.

Women who perform these acts of torture serve as shields to hide the true guilty parties and to deflect attention from the chattel status of women in many of these countries and in certain tribes. Female genital mutilation has reduced women to instruments of male pleasure; it ensures the sexual control or suppression of the sexual behavior of women. If in fact this is what is occurring, it seems unduly harsh to punish victims, even when they participate in their own torture. Women appear to be powerless over their own bodies and thus, not the “guilty” parties in this equation. But how does one go about applying the Conventions against Torture for those practicing FGM without once again victimizing the victims? Hence, punishment should be inflicted upon governments that tolerate, encourage, and venerate this practice; while education should be provided for the “unwitting foils” who perform this practice.

The intent of this article is to graphically describe FGM; discuss the background of FGM and its health, psychological, and social implications; propose some workable solutions to ending FGM; and raise the level of awareness of the pain and suffering of women around the world. In part, this article will discuss invoking the Convention against Torture against those nations unwilling to end this horrific practice. There is also a caveat to this article: the author acknowledges that discussing solutions to the practice of FGM is not a simplistic and straight-forward endeavor; Professor Leslye Amede Obiora quoting Adam Kuper writes: “Complex notions, like culture, inhibit an analysis of the relationships among the variables they pack together. . .”. In other words, solutions to ending FGM are as complicated as the societies that practice it. Therefore, ending FGM cannot be reduced to feel-good sound bites, but must be thoughtful, respectful, and deliberate.

[. . .]

A July 11, 2007 headline reads, “Concern grows in Britain over female genital mutilation.” The article reports in the “story highlights” that:

1. Police began a campaign to make the practice a crime;

2. A 20,000 pound reward is being offered for information leading to the United Kingdom's first prosecution;

3. And, the problem mostly involves first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

And so, this discussion has come full circle. FGM is no longer a problem of the under-developed, uninformed world. FGM is in plain view of the Western world and has reached the shores of the United States, Europe, and other countries that have become home to those cultures which embrace and promote this practice. We can no longer make the argument that we did not know that this practice exists, nor can we argue that it is anything but torture. The world can no longer make policy and operate with its eyes wide shut. The world has the tools and the resources to end this form of torture against infants, girls and women. It is past time for the world to resist; female genital mutilation must end today.

Associate Professor of Law, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College of Law; B.S. Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; J.D., cum laude, Howard University School of Law, Washington, DC.