Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) launched Operation Limelight USA at Washington Dulles International Airport on June 13.
The program is designed to increase public awareness about female genital mutilation (FGM) and help to deter its practice.
FGM is a cultural practice that involves cutting or other harm to female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
It is often performed on girls between the ages of six and ten.
(WARNING: Graphic Mannequin Challenge: On International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, we can’t stay frozen. It’s time to #EndFGM. Thanks to Unicef CHAD for the most powerful mannequin challenge video yet. Courtesy of UNICEF USA and YouTube. Posted on Feb 6, 2017.)
FGM provides no health benefits and, in fact, can cause severe health effects – significant bleeding and acute pain, as well as life-long consequences of chronic infection, childbirth complications, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even death.
As part of Operation Limelight USA, specially trained HSI and FBI agents talked with families and other passengers about the harms of FGM and shared informational materials on the criminal penalties for FGM and available resources for girls at risk.
The three-day program, June 13 to 15, reached travelers on nine international flights bound for connecting hubs or destinations with high prevalence rates of FGM.
It was held at the beginning of summer vacation when girls may be sent from the United States to other countries to undergo FGM, a practice known as “vacation cutting.”
“Brutality of this nature is inconceivable and horrifying to many people around the world” said Patrick J. Lechleitner, special agent in charge of HSI Washington, D.C.
“HSI will steadfastly enforce U.S. law protecting women and girls from this violent, illegal, and barbaric practice, whether it’s happening here at home or is facilitated abroad in an attempt to evade our laws.”
“Female genital mutilation along with other brutal forms of violence against women & girls has no place in modern society & must be stopped.”—@OVWJustice Principal Dep Dir Sullivan at @ICEgov outreach program to increase awareness about FGM & deter it https://t.co/ip9v2vocZU pic.twitter.com/GeOPV43T22
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) June 18, 2018
It is a federal crime to practice FGM in the United States, as well as to transport a minor outside the United States for FGM.
Title 18 of United States Code Section 116 prohibits the knowing circumcision, excision, or infibulation in whole or in part of the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris of a person under 18 years of age.
Section (d), which was enacted in 2013, prohibits the transportation of a minor outside the United States for FGM.
(Although primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a universal problem and is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America. Courtesy of Unicef and YouTube. Posted on Feb 6, 2015.)
Twenty-six states also have specific laws criminalizing FGM, including several states which similarly criminalize transporting a girl overseas for the purpose of FGM.
Operation Limelight USA is a program designed by HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) to bring awareness about FGM and deter its practice by educating the public about the risks and penalties associated with it.
It is based on the United Kingdom’s Operation Limelight which began at Heathrow Airport and is conducted by the Metropolitan Police Service and Border Authority.
Principal Deputy Director Katharine (Katie) Sullivan of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) observed the outreach alongside officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and ICE’s HRVWCC.
(Four American survivors of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) break the culture of silence around the issue. These women, from diverse backgrounds, illustrate that FGM/C is not restricted to any one geography, religion, or socioeconomic class. In order to realize the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending FGM/C by 2030, we need all hands on deck. Not only do more courageous survivors need to speak out, we need religious leaders, men and boys, health practitioners, and young people to join the global campaign. Courtesy of ShareAmerica and YouTube. Posted on Apr 14, 2017.)
“Female genital mutilation along with other brutal forms of violence against women and girls has no place in modern society and must be stopped,” said OVW Principal Deputy Director Sullivan.
“I commend HSI for bringing awareness to this illegal practice and important issue.”
Female mutilation is a powerful cultural practice that ensures social acceptance within communities and families, and as a result, survivors are often reluctant to come forward to provide information or much more, give testimony against their parents.
Medical, educational and other professionals may be unaware of the how to determine that a girl has suffered female mutilation, or may be reticent to report the family.
Despite these challenges, on April 12, 2017, HSI, the FBI and the Department of Justice made international headlines for the first indictment under the federal law banning female genital mutilation.
(Detroit emergency room doctor Jumana Nagarwala, a U.S. citizen and Detroit-area doctor, charged with child genital mutilation. Courtesy of WXYZ-TV Detroit | Channel 7 and YouTube. Posted on Apr 13, 2017)