Deportation Stayed, African Immigrant Woman Avoids Possible Genital Mutilation

The US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay last Friday to Philomena Nwaokolo, a Nigerian immigrant living in Dallas who argued that she and her 3-year-old daughter would face the tortures of female genital mutilation (FGM) if they were deported. Nwaokolo came to the US two decades ago as a legal immigrant. However, upon taking a position as a nurse’s aide, she violated her visa restrictions two years later. The court’s ruling, which recognizes FGM as a form of torture, marks a milestone in Nwaokolo’s six-year legal effort, which included four denied motions to reopen her case. Still, the broader impact remains to be seen, especially regarding the deportation of African immigrants by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Officials of that agency have yet to comment on the case.

A 2001 World Health Organization report estimates that 100 to 140 million women and girls have experienced FGM. The practice, which affects a least two million girls every year, is performed as a girl’s rights of passage and is prevalent in over 28 African countries, as well as Syria and Saudi Arabia. There is growing evidence that FGM is also occurring among emigrant populations living in Europe and the United States.

FGM is practiced in various forms–all severe and harmful to women’s health–including: clitoridectomy, the removal of prepuce (skin covering the clitoris) and/or the removal of the clitoris; excision, the removal of the prepuce and clitoris and/or the partial or complete removal of the labia; to infibulation, the partial or complete removal of external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Health risks include death from excessive bleeding, extreme pain during urination or menstruation, and infection or complications during childbirth as scar tissue may block the birth canal.

Ethiopia will host an International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation in early February. The conference–whose attendees will include UN agency representatives, the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union, African and European dignitaries, as well as various ministries of the Ethiopian government–aims to develop an action plan and declare its final day, February 6, International Day for “Zero Tolerance to FGM,” reports Xinhua General News Service.


Washington Post 1/3/03; World Health Organization 8/2001; Xinhua General News Service 1/4/03; Feminist Daily Newswire

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