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Michigan Is Poised to Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation, But It’s Still Legal in 26 US States

endfgm.PNGImage: Twitter

Today, a Michigan state senate committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would outlaw female genital mutilation. The practice is already a federal crime, with a penalty of up to five years in prison, but the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Margaret O’Brien, doesn’t believe that’s enough.  

According to O’Brien, the bill explicitly says the disfigurement or removal of any body parts is punishable by 15 years in prison.

“When you look at it, this is not something that should be embraced by anyone,” she said. “In fact, Muslims don’t embrace this, Christians don’t embrace it, but rather it’s small cultural sects within those religions who embrace it.”

Read More:  Doctor in Michigan Facing Federal FGM Charges

She introduced the bill after two Detroit-area doctors were arrested and charged with allegedly conspiring to commit female genital mutilation on two young girls, one as young as six-years-old.

The doctors were part of a small sect of Muslims from India who have previously been linked to other claims of FGM in countries like Australia.

In response, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy called on the group to denounce the practice and “put out an unequivocal condemnation of all ‘khatna’ [or, FGM] around the world as immoral and un-Islamic,” according to a letter cited in the Detroit News.

Last week’s news was a rude awakening that FGM can happen anywhere.

Read More: Michigan Doctor Denies Performing FGM, Says It Was ‘Religious Practice’

As a matter of fact, the number of girls under 18 at risk for FGM in the US has quadrupled since 1997, according to the AHA Foundation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 513,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM in the US.

And in 26 states, the practice is still not a crime.

In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — where some of the 10,000 - 25,000 women and girls are at risk — there is no state law banning the practice.

map-1a.jpgSource: The AHA Foundation

But many experts believe criminalization could only worsen the issue, driving the practice further underground, reported Michigan Radio.

“If you ban it, it doesn’t mean that people won’t still try to do it,” said Frank Ravitch, the chair of the Law and Religion Department at Michigan State University School of Law. “It may be that they do it in more unsanitary environments.”

Kathy Wander, a biological anthropologist who studied Senegal’s criminalization of female genital mutilation in 1999, found that some communities responded with anger — feeling that their traditions had come under attack.

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

Whereas she believes outlawing FGM will not on its own stop the practice, she does believe it can end if certain programs alongside the criminalization. These programs would make efforts to understand these communities and why the practice is still common in 2017.

“Pairing criminalization with something else is likely to be much more effective,” she said.

More than 200 million girls around the world today have undergone FGM, according to the World Health Organization. The practice is recognized internationally as a human rights violation.