Punishment of Minor Female Genital Ritual Procedures: Is the Perfect the Enemy of the Good?

Dev World Bioeth. 2017;17(2):134–140.

Punishment of Minor Female Genital Ritual Procedures: Is the Perfect the Enemy of the Good?

Jacobs AJ, Arora KS

ABSTRACT

Female genital alteration (FGA) is any cutting, removal or destruction of any part of the external female genitalia. Various FGA practices are common throughout the world. While most frequent in Africa and Asia, transglobal migration has brought ritual FGA to Western nations. All forms of FGA are generally considered undesirable for medical and ethical reasons when performed on minors. One ritual FGA procedure is the vulvar nick (VN). This is a small laceration to the vulva that does not cause morphological changes. Besides being performed as a primary ritual procedure it has been proposed as a substitute for more extensive forms of FGA. Measures advocated or taken to reduce the burden of FGA can be punitive or non-punitive. Even if it is unethical to perform VN, we argue that it also is unethical to attempt to suppress it through punishment. First, punishment of VN is likely to cause more harm than good overall, even to those ostensibly being protected. Second, punishment is likely to exceed legitimate retributive ends. We do not argue in favor of performing VN. Rather, we argue that non-punitive strategies such as education and harm reduction should be employed.

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