Opinion

The Mother of All Inventions

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Posted: Jun 15, 2018 12:01 AM
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The Mother of All Inventions

Law enforcement now employs sophisticated cybercrime fighting tools to root out criminal conduct. Police use modern DNA technology to catch criminals, sophisticated digital camera imaging to solve crimes, and employ digital footprints and algorithms to track down child pornographers or cyber felons. Cyber forensics crack the complex code of global criminal activity and organizations. Yet, there are some crimes that do not lend themselves to cyber solutions. 

The unique and covert nature of global trafficking of child female genital mutilation (FGM) victims introduces a baffling challenge for law enforcement interdiction. While not a sophisticated crime, the familial and secretive nature of the crime of FGM requires ingenious and enterprising crime-fighting tactics. The victims are young, threatened into silence, and powerless. Perpetrators and organizers of the mutilation of little girls’ genitals are often parents and relatives, thus making crime-solving difficult for police. Little girls are often taken overseas to their home country for this brutal procedure called “vacation cutting.” The modern challenge for law enforcement is how to prevent this ancient practice. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it appears that police are now spoon-feeding the solutions to potential victims of FGM and forced child marriages. Airport staff in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city with nearly 1 million people, discovered a simple and unique way to empower the growing number of potential FGM and child marriage victims who travel through the airport. This law enforcement tool is not connected to the internet or some sophisticated crime lab analysis. Yet, this household utensil alerts police to impending criminal activity. 

Immigrant girls living in Sweden who are being taken overseas for purposes of a forced child marriage or female genital mutilation are advised to place a metal spoon in their underwear before going through airport metal detectors, which will alert security that they are destined for child marriage or FGM. This spoon will trigger staff to separate the girls from their family and interview the girls in the safety of law enforcement. This idea was first generated by a British NGO, which found that several girls were saved from forced child marriage by the spoon trigger. Europe is now increasingly plagued by honor-based violence, and governments and charities are struggling to find strategies to intervene and prevent these crimes against girls and women. 

A 2015 study found up to 38,000 girls and women living in Sweden may have undergone FGM—with victims including women born in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt and Gambia. Like many others, these countries practice FGM, and this practice is imported into Europe through migrating immigrant populations. Yet, a more recent study found that 150,000 women in Sweden are victims of female genital mutilation—an increase of over 100,000. FGM is practiced in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and is mostly carried out for religious or spiritual reasons. According to a 2016 estimation by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), around 200 million women living today have undergone this procedure.

Victim NGOs, together with law enforcement, should collaborate to prevent and solve crimes. In America, the highly effective Amber Alert is an early warning system envisioned by the mother of Amber Haberman after her 9-year-old was abducted and murdered without the benefit of an early warning system. Using simple existing radio and television resources, the Amber Alert has successfully recovered 924 children, and the Amber Alert is now employed globally in many countries. 

The mother of all inventions to rescue little girls from a stolen childhood and a lifetime of pain and suffering surprisingly resides in the kitchen utensil drawer. How simple, yet extraordinary. 

(Elizabeth Yore is an international child advocate attorney with expertise in human trafficking, child exploitation, missing children and female genital mutilation, and has worked for Oprah Winfrey as her child advocate. Yore was formerly the General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Abducted Children and leads the national initiative www.EndFGMToday.com.)