In a surprise move, the state of Minnesota is taking a tough stand against female genital mutilation (FGM). While there have been cases within the United States where doctors have been arrested for performing this barbaric ritual on young girls, there is little that can be done to the parents that allow their daughters to have the procedure. This will change if a new bill passes in Minnesota.
On Thursday, Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria introduced House Resolution 2621. This was in response to recent cases of doctors within the United States performing FGM as part of the Muslim faith. This issue was brought to the forefront in April of 2017 when three adults were arrested in Michigan for performing the surgical procedure on a seven-year-old girl from Minnesota.
While it is illegal to have the procedure done in the state of Minnesota, laws concerning this type of abuse towards residents of Minnesota and their parents became murky. According to a news report about the arrests made in April:
“Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in all 50 states, but Minnesota, and some other states, still allow parents to transport their children elsewhere in the world to have the controversial procedure done.
State law defines female genital mutilation as when someone “knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates, in whole or in part, the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris.” A CDC report notes the practice occurs in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. These countries are known to have high muslim populations. Equality Now states that the act is performed to “control women’s sexuality” and “to make a girl more acceptable in the community and increases her eligibility for marriage.”
House Resolution 2621 will change the ways Minnesota authorities handle cases of FGM. According to Franson:
“Minnesotans were shocked when they heard FGM had come to our state. I was appalled to learn that parents who abuse their girls in this life-scarring way are not held responsible for the crime. Minnesota law was silent on parents allowing or encouraging this to happen to their child. I view this as child abuse and sexual abuse.”
While state law within Minnesota prohibits doctors from performing FGM, it does nothing to stop parents from traveling to have it done. There is no current punishment for parents who can have it done illegally in the state either. Currently, there is no real consequence for parents that allow their daughters to be mutilated.
Minnesota does have two current laws about FGM. One of the laws is tied to educational and outreach activities for parents about the risks of this procedure and the long-term damages it does to the young girls. The second law makes it a felony for medical professionals to perform FGM within the state.
The new law expands the felony charges to include parents who allow this to occur to their children. Beyond the criminal charges, these parents may also lose custody of their children after the surgery or if they are caught attempting to get it done. This includes families that travel outside of the area to have it done as in the Michigan case.
Franson is hopeful the bill will pass by a large margin. They are not expecting many to oppose the bill. There is some speculation that controversial Muslim state rep. Ilham Omar may vote no. According to Franson:
“Minnesota needs to send a strong message that we won’t stay silent and that the punishment will be harsh, including the potential loss of parental custody of these innocent victims.”
Even though FGM has just come to the forefront of the news and awareness of the voters in Minnesota, this barbaric crime against young females in the United States is not new. According to the CDC:
“…they do not track cases of FGM at the state level. However, a CDC report does look at the number of at-risk women in the United States based on population size. In Minnesota, approximately, 44,000 women are considered at-risk when it comes to FGM procedures, 17,000 of these are young women and girls under 18.”
The girls at risk in the state are a part of a growing trend in the United States tied to an increase in immigration and refugees from Muslim countries. According to the Population Reference Bureau, in 2013 “…there were up to 507,000 U.S. women and girls who had undergone [genital mutilation] or were at risk of the procedure… the rapid increase in women and girls at risk reflects an increase in immigration to the United States.”
The change in the laws of Minnesota will also help to punish parents who travel out of state to have FGM completed. Beyond the Michigan case, many families go out of the country to have the procedure performed. This includes the influx of Somali refugees traveling to Kenya to have their daughters operated on.
One such family included a Somali-American from Minnesota who spent two weeks in Kenya over December to allow her 12 and 13-year-old daughters to be cut. The procedure in Kenya has changed slightly as the country has started to crack down on the traditional but highly invasive surgery.
The changes in FGM service in Kenya was described as:
“Cutters in Kenya are changing their methods in an attempt to evade the law, switching from infibulation — in which all external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening stitched closed — to sunna, where only the clitoris is cut or removed.”