U.S. Homeland Security Investigators are in the Garden State this week as part of Operation Limelight USA.

The goal of the initiative is to combat a practice known as female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Brett Dreyer, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Team, says agents have been at Newark Liberty International Airport all week speaking to certain passengers traveling with girls under the age of 18 to countries where FGM is performed.

Some of those countries include the Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia, Egypt, Togo, Chad, Guinea, Sierra Leone, the United Republic of Tanzania, Niger, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria.

In all, 31 different countries in parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa have been identified as FGM hotspots.

He said passengers traveling with girls to these destinations are identified and investigators will talk with them “about the law and explain the risks and the legal implications and hopefully deterring them and deterring the parents from doing this practice.”

“In those countries it’s a cultural practice," he said. "FGM is performed as a rite of passage or a coming of age ceremony.”

World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

It is against the law on a state, federal and United Nations levels.

He said the Centers for Disease Control estimates 66,000 girls in the New Jersey and New York region may be at risk for FGM, and more than 200 million around the world may be forced into undergoing a procedure that can include cutting, piercing, and in some cases sewing shut most of the vaginal area.

“Usually a parent will take their child, their girl, their daughter overseas to a country to have FGM performed, that is against the law, it is a federal crime.”

He explained it is illegal to take your child out of the United States to have FGM performed, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Dreyer noted FGM can have serious medical complications, including death, and may take weeks or months of recovery time, depending on what exactly is done.

He said the age of girls subjected to FGM varies from country to country, culture to culture. Frequently it’s done between the ages of 6 and 10, but also it may involve girls in their teens.

Efforts to crack down on FGM were ramped up after people in different communities brought the issue into the spotlight and increased awareness about it.

Dreyer said the goal of the Operation is prevention.

He added in some cultures there is strong pressure to perform FGM.

“Hopefully, those families on the fence about whether they should do it to their child, this could hopefully affect their decision making.”

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