Somali refugee families may be barred from immigrating to the US for performing female genital mutilation on their daughters. A spokesman from the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, condemned the ritual as a crime stating “the rules of cultural sensitivity do not apply here,” and announced that any family who has mutilated their daughters in the last few months would be barred from resettling in the US, according to BBC News. With the US government declaring female genital mutilation illegal in the US, Somali refugees have started carrying out the female circumcision rite, which typically happens when a girl reaches puberty, on girls as young as 2, according to BBC News.
Currently there are approximately 12,000 Somali families being held in camps in Kenya on their way to the US. The Somalis are members of an ethnic minority, former slaves who are refugees in Kenya because they are now victimized in their own war-ravaged country. The US has approved the emigration en masse of the entire ethnic Bantu group, who are being held in two isolated refugee camps in the northern part of Kenya. Aid workers at the camps there have reported incidents of mass genital mutilation. These incidents typically take place at night without any anesthetic, with the girls held down to the floor by members of their families. One aid official stated that “an aggressive public information campaign” has changed the minds of many Somalian parents.
In 2000, the World Health Organization reported that two million women and girls face genital mutilation annually. Research findings indicate between 85 and 115 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice, all of whom face possible health risks in the form of death from excessive bleeding, infection or complications during childbirth as scar tissue may block the birth canal. Female genital mutilation continues in many countries of the world and is especially common among African tribes, who claim that it is a practice encouraged in Islam. Some are said to view it as a mark of chastity, a rite of passage into womanhood, and a link to increased fertility. In March 2002, delegates at an international conference on women and Islam strongly condemned female genital mutilation, and stated that the practice was not mentioned in the Koran.