Is FGM/C legal in the U.S.?
In 1996, 18 U.S. Code § 116 ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ was enacted, establishing a federal law against conspiring, attempting to, and performing FGM/C on anyone under the age of 18.2,3 FGM/C cannot be performed for any religious, cultural or traditional reasons. The only exception is medical necessity. Please read the code in detail below (sourced from Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute):
18 U.S. Code § 116 ‘Female Genital Mutilation’
“(a)Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever, in any circumstance described in subsection (d), knowingly—
- (1)performs, attempts to perform, or conspires to perform female genital mutilation on another person who has not attained the age of 18 years;
- (2)being the parent, guardian, or caretaker of a person who has not attained the age of 18 years facilitates or consents to the female genital mutilation of such person; or
- (3)transports a person who has not attained the age of 18 years for the purpose of the performance of female genital mutilation on such person,
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
(b)A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is—
- (1)necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner; or
- (2)performed on a person in labor or who has just given birth and is performed for medical purposes connected with that labor or birth by a person licensed in the place it is performed as a medical practitioner, midwife, or person in training to become such a practitioner or midwife.
(c)It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that female genital mutilation is required as a matter of religion, custom, tradition, ritual, or standard practice.
(d)For the purposes of subsection (a), the circumstances described in this subsection are that—
- (1)the defendant or victim traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, or traveled using a means, channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce, in furtherance of or in connection with the conduct described in subsection (a);
- (2)the defendant used a means, channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in furtherance of or in connection with the conduct described in subsection (a);
- (3)any payment of any kind was made, directly or indirectly, in furtherance of or in connection with the conduct described in subsection (a) using any means, channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce;
- (4)the defendant transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce any communication relating to or in furtherance of the conduct described in subsection (a) using any means, channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means or in manner, including by computer, mail, wire, or electromagnetic transmission;
- (5)any instrument, item, substance, or other object that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce was used to perform the conduct described in subsection (a);
- (6)the conduct described in subsection (a) occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or any territory or possession of the United States; or
- (7)the conduct described in subsection (a) otherwise occurred in or affected interstate or foreign commerce.
(e)For purposes of this section, the term “female genital mutilation” means any procedure performed for non-medical reasons that involves partial or total removal of, or other injury to, the external female genitalia, and includes—
- (1)a clitoridectomy or the partial or total removal of the clitoris or the prepuce or clitoral hood;
- (2)excision or the partial or total removal (with or without excision of the clitoris) of the labia minora or the labia majora, or both;
- (3)infibulation or the narrowing of the vaginal opening (with or without excision of the clitoris); or
- (4)other procedures that are harmful to the external female genitalia, including pricking, incising, scraping, or cauterizing the genital area.”
Since 1996, the law has been amended twice to strengthen protections against FGM/C.2 Please read more about the amendments below.
Amendment in 2013
In 2013, the law was amended to include the criminalization of purposely traveling out of the U.S. to have FGM/C performed on a minor.5
- “(d) Whoever knowingly transports from the United States and its territories a person in foreign commerce for the purpose of conduct with regard to that person that would be a violation of subsection (a) if the conduct occurred within the United States, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”6,7
Amendment in 2021
In 2021, the law was amended when H.R.6100 - 'Strengthening the Opposition to Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020' was passed to include a more comprehensive list of actions related to FGM/C that are punishable under the law, and to expand the penalty for the crime.8,9
Details on H.R. 6100 can be read here:
While there is a federal law against FGM/C, it is helpful to understand if and what laws exist in your state. You can learn more at Equality Now. Majority of states have laws against FGM/C. Others like D.C. have proposed legislation in progress.10
Regardless of whether or not your state has laws against FGM/C, it is still a form of child abuse.
Virginia State Laws
Legislation was updated and in effect starting in 2019. The law applies only to minors. The person(s) who performed FGM/C and the parents/guardians can be prosecuted. The law also includes a “vacation cutting” provision and a provision for community engagement and outreach.10
In 2019, Virginia also passed "SB 1159 Family life education; female genital mutilation", which updates the Virginia Standards of Learning to allow for the incorporation of FGM/C into the curriculum for family life education courses.11
Maryland State Laws
Legislation in effect since 1998, this law applies only to minors. The person(s) who performed FGM/C can be prosecuted along with the parents/guardians. It does not allow for cultural/ritual reasons and/or consent as a defense.10
District of Columbia (D.C.) Laws
Currently, there is no law specifically banning FGM/C in D.C. Regardless, it is considered a crime under child abuse laws. There is proposed legislation in Washington, D.C. to ban the practice of FGM/C within the District (DC B25-0247). This legislation also incorporates the engagement of DC Health in educating mandatory reporters and community members about the harms of the practice and assessing for potential risk.12,13
FGM/C and child abuse laws
The U.S. government recognizes FGM/C as a form of child abuse.1 Regardless of whether or not there are state laws specific to FGM/C, it is considered a crime under child abuse laws.
For more on state and tribal welfare laws click here.
Mandatory Reporters and Law Enforcement
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment (CAPTA) requires all states to have processes in place for reporting child abuse or neglect, often including mandatory reporters that come from various disciplines (e.g. health care professionals, teachers, social workers) and parts of the community (e.g. childcare workers).14 Protecting children takes a multi-disciplinary approach and mandatory reporters will have direct interactions with different law enforcement officials if a suspicion occurs.15
We have a number of toolkits on this website that can serve as a resource for many - survivors, health care providers, educators, and community members such as faith leaders and men. Additionally, we have a fact sheet that can be distributed and shared with the community.
Page last reviewed: August 9, 2023
Page last updated: August 9, 2023