I am familiar with this debate in two ways. First, I come from a culture where virtually every woman has undergone genital cutting. I was 5 years old when mine were cut and sewn. Second, while serving as a member of parliament in the Netherlands, I was assigned the portfolio for the emancipation and integration of immigrant women. One of my missions was to combat practices such as FGM.
To understand this problem, we need to begin with parental motives. The “nicking” option is regarded as a necessary cleansing ritual. The clitoris is considered to be an impure part of the girl-child and bleeding it is believed to make her pure and free of evil spirits.
But the majority of girls are subjected to FGM to ensure their virginity—hence the sewing up of the opening of the vagina—and to curb their libido to guarantee sexual fidelity after marriage—hence the effective removal of the clitoris and scraping of the labia. Think of it as a genital burqa, designed to control female sexuality.
When the motive for FGM is to ensure chastity before marriage and to curb female libido, then the nick option is not sufficient.
Moreover, the nick option does not address the main problem in Western liberal democracies where FGM is outlawed, which is that it can almost never be detected, so that few perpetrators are brought to justice. Even if we were to consider tolerating it in its most limited form, how could we tell that parents who want to ensure that their daughter will be a virgin on her wedding night will not have her (legally) nicked and then a few months later (illegally) infibulated? I applaud the compassion for children that inspires the pediatricians’ proposal, but they need to eliminate this risk for little girls.
When it comes to this subject, there is no middle ground.