Tough Michigan Female Genital Mutilation Bill: 5 Essential Facts

Tough Michigan Female Genital Mutilation Bill: 5 Essential Facts

If there were any issue that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on unilaterally in spite of the current political climate, one would expect it to be the need to ban female genital mutilation in the United States, Truth Uncensored reported.

Not a chance.

Key facts about Female genital mutilation (FGM):

  • FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

According to UNICEF, the pre-Medieval practice continues to be performed on a majority of girls in the predominantly Muslim countries of Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Guinea, and parts of Yemen, India and Pakistan.

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U.S. authorities have charged a Detroit doctor with performing genital mutilation on 7-year-old girls in what is believed to be the first case brought under a law prohibiting the procedure.

Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician at a Detroit hospital who performed the procedures at an unnamed medical clinic in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, was scheduled to appear in federal court on Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls,” acting U.S. Attorney in Detroit Daniel Lemisch said in a statement. “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law,” The Mogadishu Times reported.

In Michigan, however, Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign bills increasing FGM penalties to 15 years and extending statutes of limitation for legal recourse.

LANSING, MI — Doctors, parents and others involved in female genital mutilation could go to prison for up to 15 years under a tough, 13-bill package approved by both chambers of the Michigan Legislature and now on the way to Gov. Rick Snyder, who is expected to sign it. Female genital mutilation, or FGM as it is known, has been illegal in the United States for two decades, but federal prosecutors have said that as many as 100 Michigan girls have undergone the procedure, a religious rite of passage in some cultures, The Detroit Patch reports.

The proposed Michigan law is tougher than the federal statute, which carries a five-year prison sentence. Legislators said imposing tougher penalties in Michigan may make parents think twice before transporting their daughters across state lines to have the internationally condemned procedure.

FGM procedures, which have no health benefits, can range from membrane scraping to removal of outside genitalia, and are intended to curb the sexual desires of girls and women. Serious health consequences can result, including chronic pain, infections, infertility, complications during childbirth and psychological problems.

The House of Representatives gave final passage to FGM bills Thursday, making Michigan the 26th state to pass statutes outlawing the practice.

Four people have been charged with female genital mutilation in the case, the first court test of the federal FGM statute. They include Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville; Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, of Farmington Hills; and Tahera Shafiq, 48, of Northville.

They are accused of conspiring to perform FGM on two 7-year-old Minnesota girls who traveled to Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic in Livonia with their parents. All are members of the Muslim sect Dawoodi Bohra, but FGM is practiced in other cultures as well, including majority Christian nation such as Ethiopia. It is also common in other parts of Africa, and in parts of Asia and the Middle East.

 

Here are five things to know about the legislation:

Why Michigan got tougher on FGM than other states: The Michigan law is one of the toughest in the country by design. Rep. Klint Kesto, a Commerce Township Republican who sponsored the legislation, says it sends a strong message that Michigan isn’t the place to go for female genital mutilation, the Associated Press reported.

“We can’t have Michigan be a destination for the heinous act, this criminal activity, this suppression of women’s rights, this oppression of girls,” Kesto said.

Who opposed FGM legislation and why: Rep. Martin Howrylak, a Troy Republican, was one of two House members who voted against the bills in their original form. He opposes FGM, but favors legislation that would have taken cultural differences into account, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Will families avoid medical care for fear of being penalized and having their kids taken away and possibly being deported for something that where they grew up was a way of life and they didn’t know anything else?” he said. “Why don’t we just rely on the federal crime?”

Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, a Detroit Democrat, opposed an earlier version of the legislation because it extended the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits, but not on criminal charges, The Detroit News reported. The legislation was amended.

Women have longer to seek legal recourse: Girls subjected to the procedure would have 10 years, or until their 21st birthday, whichever is later, to file criminal charges, and could sue in civil court for damages until their 28th birthday, which is longer than the two-year window to bring civil lawsuits after the discovery of harm.

Amanda Parker, senior director of a AHA Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit group that defends women and girls against violence, told the AP that Michigan lawmakers are “really ticking all the boxes” with the legislation. Few states have extended the statute of limitations on criminal FGM charges, giving victims who were too young to understand what was happening them legal recourse as adults.

“This is a procedure that happens to little girls who are typically so young that not only do they not know what’s happening to them, they don’t know that it’s wrong,” Parker said. “They don’t know that they have the option to stand up for themselves.”

Education program sets Michigan apart: The Michigan legislation brings conversations previously only whispered about out of the shadows. It requires the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to develop and administer an education program the dangers of FGM with the state’s new immigrant populations, who may be at risk for FGM. Teachers, police and physicians would also receive training.

When FGM isn’t a crime: Female genital mutilation wouldn’t be a crime if performed on girls under the age of 18 for sound medical reason. Arguments that FGM is a cultural custom or ritual could not be used as a defense.

In the federal case filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, defendants have said through their lawyers that FGM is a religious ritual protected under the First Amendment — a defense may take the case into new First Amendment territory.

Photo:  Bing


 

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