The U.S. government says it is seriously considering whether to change the status of dozens of Somali Bantu refugee families who have been given special permission to emigrate to the United States. U.S. officials say the move is necessary, following media reports that the refugees have been rushing to perform genital mutilation surgery on their daughters ahead of their move to the United States, where the practice is illegal.
In a written statement, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi says the United States finds the act of female genital mutilation abhorrent, and strongly condemns the practice.
The media in Kenya report that several refugee families have recently rushed to perform the procedure, also known as female circumcision, on girls as young as two-years-old, after the families were told the tradition is illegal in the United States.
The embassy says the U.S. government is seriously considering what steps to take following the media reports.
The families reportedly involved are among nearly 12,000 Somali Bantus who have been given permission to resettle in the United States. The refugees have been identified as a special case - a group in desperate need of a home.
The Bantus - an ethnic minority group, which suffered centuries of persecution in Somalia - have been languishing for more than a decade in a refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. The Bantus were chased into exile there in 1991, when Somalia descended into anarchy after the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre. Because they do not have a clan system to protect them, the Bantus believe most of them would be killed if they went back to Somalia.
The United Nations initially asked two other African countries, Mozambique and Tanzania, to provide a home for the Somali Bantus. But both countries said they lacked the means to take them. Eventually, the United States agreed to resettle the refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says female genital mutilation is a common practice among all Somalis, not just the Bantus, and it is part of some other Muslim traditions as well. Young girls are held down and mutilated with razors or knives, often without anesthetic. The goal is to make the girls less likely to be sexually promiscuous because they cannot experience sexual pleasure.
The U.N. agency says it is carrying out programs to discourage the practice, but it does not have the authority to prevent it in refugee camps.