A decision by the US Department of Justice not to fight to defend a federal law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) sends a "damaging message" to those working to end the practice, advocates said on Friday.
Government lawyers said on Wednesday they would not appeal a decision by a Michigan federal judge who dismissed charges involving FGM as unconstitutional, ruling it was a state issue.
Congress in 1996 outlawed FGM, a ritual that involves partial or total removal of external genitalia, which the World Health Organization has called "a grave violation of the human rights of girls and women."
Half a million girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The decision by the U.S. government "is sending a damaging message to law enforcement, the courts and to the courageous survivors who are breaking the silence around FGM," said Shelby Quast, an office director for Equality Now, an international human rights organization, in a statement.
About half of the nation's 50 states have laws outlawing the practice. Michigan law forbids the practice, but its law took effect after the case in question.
In the Michigan case, a federal judge late last year dismissed FGM charges against a doctor and others from the local Indian Dawoodi Bohra community involved in the mutilation of nine young girls in Detroit.
The judge said lawyers failed to prove that the federal government had the authority to regulate FGM and that such power lay in the hands of the states.