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Girls & Women

After Michigan Arrest, States Are Passing Laws to Outlaw FGM

As doctors in Michigan face federal charges for female genital mutilation (FGM), other states are taking notice – and taking action – to prevent the horrifying procedure.

Minnesota lawmakers listened to testimony Wednesday from Fahio Khalif, a Somali-American FGM victim before unanimously passing a bill that would make parental involvement in FGM a felony and grounds to lose custody rights, ABC News reports.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Support #SheDecides to Protect the Health of Girls and Women Everywhere

Also known as cutting, the procedure involves partial or total removal of female genitalia for religious, cultural, or any other non-medical reason. Often, girls between the ages of 4 and 14 are cut to ensure their virginity until marriage.

FGM was made a federal crime in 1996 with a penalty of up to five years in prison. In 2013, the Trasport for Female Genital Mutilation Act extended the law to cover traveling overseas for FGM, known as “vacation cutting.”

But the procedure has continued in the US, prompting states to increase penalties for perpetrators.

The Michigan state senate held a hearing on a bill that would outlaw FGM earlier this week, and voted unanimously to make the practice punishable by 15 years in prison.

Read More: After FGM Arrests, National Muslim Group Pushes Michigan Mosque to Condemn Practice

The Texas Senate also passed a bill to increase punishments for FGM. Under the new law, people involved in transporting young girls and women can be prosecuted and neither cultural custom nor consent may be used as defense, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Co-authored by all eight female senators, the vote passed unanimously. It only took three minutes.  

And in Maine, a Republican lawmaker has written a bill that would make FGM punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

FGM gained national spotlight in April when Jumana Nagarwala, a 44-year-old emergency room doctor was arrested for performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota at a Detroit-area clinic, marking the first time a US doctor is facing FGM charges.

Shortly after, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida, were arrested for conspiring with Nagarwala to perform FGM.

Prosecutors claimed Nargawala had performed FGM for 12 years, BBC reports. But Nagarwala’s defense attorney argued the procedure was religious and didn’t involve cutting.

The procedure is supported by both men and women in societies that practice FGM. Religion is often cited as justification, though neither Islam nor Christianity support FGM. Other rationales include, controlling sexuality, aesthetic reasons, and the belief of the procedure as a rite of passage for women.  

While there is no medical benefit to FGM, the procedure can cause a plethora of health issues like severe pain, excessive bleeding, a variety of infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and intercourse, and psychological issues.

Read More: FGM Victims Go Under the Knife Again – This Time to Rebuild Their Lives

Because the practice is so culturally ingrained, some lawmakers fear outlawing FGM will only drive the procedure further underground to facilities that are unsanitary and less-safe.

The World Health Organization (WHO)  identifies four categories of FGM. Globally, WHO estimates more than 200 million girls and women have undergone the process and 3 million more are at risk every year.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in January 2016 found that more than 500,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM in the US.  

Washington and Virginia are two states with the greatest number of women and girls at risk of FGM, yet neither has state laws banning the practice, according to the AHA Foundation.

In fact, there are 26 states that do not have laws banning the practice.

If Minnesota, Michigan, and Texas are any indication, however, there is hope for the future.