Female genital mutilation (FGM) is officially criminalized in Ohio, Cincinnati Public Radio reports.
FGM is the cruel process of intentionally altering or injuring the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the SB214 bill Friday, which makes performing FGM a felony punishable by fines and jail time.
“All of us involved with the #EndFGMToday movement are thankful that Ohio lawmakers have seen the importance of outlawing FGM in their state,” said Elizabeth Yoremm, head of the advocacy group EndFGMToday.
FGM is a tradition practiced across cultures and religions around the world. In Ohio, it’s most likely to affect immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia. Columbus, Ohio, has the second largest Somali immigrant population in the US.
“Kudos to @JohnKasich for signing an anti-#FGM bill in #Ohio yesterday! We hope all 50 states will soon have laws against FGM & now look to #Massachusetts to #EndFGM & be the next state to prioritize & protect girls!” - EN’s @ShelbyRQuast on key new law. https://t.co/9riLiXR8Jx— equalitynow (@equalitynow) January 8, 2019
Ohio is the 28th state in the US to criminalize FGM. The practice has been illegal on a federal level since 1996, but a federal judge dismissed charges in a Detroit, Michigan, case in November, stating that the responsibility to regulate the harmful practice falls on individual states.
Read More: FGM Among Us
FGM is performed on girls as young as 7 years old around the world and can have negative long-term effects. It is thought to help a young girl transition to adulthood and marriage but does just the opposite. The practice is an internationally recognized human rights violation that threatens women’s health — it causes severe bleeding, higher risk of HIV transmissions, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth, and an increased risk of newborn deaths.
Sarah Hayford, a sociologist at Ohio State University, told Cincinnati Public Radio that officials cannot measure exactly how many Somalis are at risk of FGM in Ohio, since immigrants often change their practices when they move to other countries. But 24,320 girls and women are at risk for FGM in Ohio according to the Population Reference Bureau, and 12,079 of them are under the age of 18.
Read More: FGM in the US: The Hidden Crime Next Door
While criminalization helps stop people who are already considering not performing FGM anymore, Hayford says it often pushes the practice underground rather than stopping it altogether.