COLUMBIA — South Carolina is working to ban ritual cutting of female genitalia after a court struck down a federal law last year.
More than 25 states have already criminalized female genital mutilation of children as child abuse.
“If I didn’t want this to happen to my children, why would I want it to happen to other kids?” said Kadi Doumbia, an Illinois-based activist who testified at a S.C. Statehouse hearing last month.
“Think about it," she added. "If you wouldn’t want this to happen to your daughter, why would you want it for someone else’s?”
Doumbia is a victim of female genital mutilation. She came to the U.S. in the early 1990s from her home country of Mali in West Africa, she said. Preventing her own children from undergoing the practice was a reason she left.
Since then, the ancient practice of cutting young girls’ genitalia has been on the rise in the United States. More than 500,000 girls are affected across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Numbers for South Carolina were not available.
States outlawed the practice, known commonly as FGM, on their own after a two decade-old federal ban was struck down by a court in Michigan.
“The U.S. was a refuge for me because my children were safe,” Doumbia said. “Now, to see that FGM is here, it’s not good news for me.”
A bill to outlaw the practice in South Carolina, H3973, was unanimously approved in the House on Wednesday. If approved by the Senate, the ban would take effect upon Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature.
State Rep. Nancy Mace, a Daniel Island Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said while female genital mutilation is common practice in some cultures — 98 percent of girls in Somalia are subject to cutting, according to United Nations data — it shouldn’t happen to women without their consent.
“I see it as a women’s rights issue,”she said. “I’m glad to see South Carolina lead in the effort.”
Female genital mutilation is nothing like circumcision for males, said Liz Yore, a Chicago attorney and head of the End FGM Today initiative.
Aside from a total lack of health benefits, the there are long-term psychological and physical effects, she said.
One type of the practice involves sewing up some of the skin, making it difficult for the woman to have children later in life. Another type involves cutting or sometimes removing the clitoris as a way to suppress female sexuality, Yore said.
“I live with this. I live with FGM every day,” Doumbia said. “Every day is a reminder that I am cut and I shouldn’t have been.”
FGM is most common in the United States among immigrants Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia, according to news reports.
“People are welcome into this country, but our values are reflected in our laws,” Yore said. “We are given the ability to bring children in this world, but we’re not given the authority to abuse these children.”
Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Columbia Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said regardless of whether female genital mutilation is accepted in certain nations and cultures, South Carolina lawmakers and residents can agree children shouldn’t be forced to undergo the practice.
The World Health Organization also condemns female genital mutilation, according to the CDC.
“It’s very important that we have a law in place,” Doumbia said. “I keep telling people I’m not doing this for myself because for me it’s already too late. I’m doing this for other people.”