Nevertheless, in the United States, an estimated 500,000 girls under the age of 13 have had the cutting procedure or are at risk of receiving it. Many are not even aware of the procedure or how widespread it is, Arriaga told CNA. Since 1997, “only one single case has been brought forward,” she said. “Officers look the other way.”
Contrary to the belief of many, it is not only Muslim communities practicing cutting, Arriaga said, but Christian communities as well. In fact, in certain countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, Christian communities have higher rates of cutting than other communities do, she said.
Some of these Christian communities in the U.S. practice female genital mutilation as a “perception of purity,” Arriaga said, to deter illicit sexual behavior by young girls.
But the practice is not required by any religious text – instead it is an ancient cultural custom that has been made into a “false” religious practice, she said. “These communities have confused a cultural interpretation in giving it a theological explanation.”
She also clarified that there is a vast difference between male circumcision – which is often performed for hygienic reasons – and female genital mutilation.
“Male circumcision causes no harm. Female genital mutilation is not a form of circumcision,” she said, but is rather an extremely painful procedure that “causes serious health and psychological harm.”
Many religious leaders, including Pope Francis, have spoken out against mutilation, she added. In 2015, at an assembly hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Francis said that the “many forms of slavery, of commodification, of mutilation of women’s bodies oblige us therefore to work to defeat this form of degradation.”
The U.S. State Department stated several times last year its intent to fight the practice of female genital mutilation.
In July 2016, at the 32nd session of the U.S. Human Rights Council, the U.S. “cosponsored resolutions” that supported “the elimination of female genital mutilation,” the State Department announced.
“Just because this is a tradition in some places does not make it right. This practice is harmful, and therefore wrong wherever it occurs,” President Barack Obama stated on Feb. 5, 2016, in his remarks on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.
Yet a case in Michigan has brought the practice into the national spotlight, as attorneys for the parents and doctors who performed the procedure on children argue that it is a religious practice and should be protected under freedom of religion.
Three people were charged earlier this year by the U.S. attorney’s office for a federal district in Michigan with performing female genital mutilation on minors, as well as “conspiracy to obstruct the federal investigation.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Jumana Nagarwala, M.D., Fakhruddin Attar, M.D., and his wife Farida Attar were all charged with performing the practice out of Attar’s medical office in Livonia, Mich., in an Indian-Muslim sect – Dawoodi Bohra – in suburban Detroit.
Lawyers for the accused claim that the practice should be protected under freedom of religion.
However, no human rights violation against children should be protected under freedom of religion, Arriaga said, including female genital mutilation. “This is a grave violation of human rights,” she said, and a “form of child abuse that no one should have to endure.”
The World Health Organization says the practice “can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”
One woman who underwent the procedure with other young girls recalled in Mother Jones magazine that “we were cut. Some of us bled and ached for days, and some walked away with lifelong physical damage.”
To defend the practice under freedom of religion would endanger the cause of religious freedom, Arriaga said.