33 states across the country have taken steps to criminalize female genital mutilation. However, Alabama and Mississippi remain the only southern states to have no legislation criminalizing the practice.
Female genital mutilation, which is defined as a procedure to “remove, cut, circumcise, excise, mutilate, infibulate or reinfibulate” any part of the genitals for non-medical purposes on females under the age of 19.
In Mississippi, Senate Bill 2472, which would have prohibited FGM, died in committee in February.
The Alabama House of Representatives adjourned early without taking action on HB 421, a bill that would have criminalized FGM.
Elizabeth Yore, child welfare advocate and head of EndFGMToday, an organization dedicated to criminalizing the practice of FGM, said that the lack of anti-FGM laws in Alabama and Mississippi risks the danger of both states becoming a “lure” for female genital mutilators in the South, as neighboring states in the South have enacted or are working to enact FGM laws.
“The South is known for its friendly people and welcoming culture,” Yore said. “However, child advocates are increasingly concerned that Mississippi and Alabama are isolated as the lone southern states not to have an FGM criminal statute to protect women and girls.
The practice of FGM was declared a felony in 1996 under the Female Genital Mutilation Act. However, that law was deemed unconstitutional last year by a federal judge, leaving states to decide on regulating the practice.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2012 that an estimated over 500,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk of being victims of the procedure.