Michigan Signs Legislation Hardening Penalties for Performing Female Genital Mutilation
Over half a million girls and women in American have either undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) or are at risk for it.
Back in April, Detroit-based emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala was charged under federal law with performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on two 7-year-old girls. Two other people who ran the clinic were also charged, making this the first United States criminal prosecution of its kind.
FGM is defined as the "partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are four major types of FGM, according to WHO: clitoridectomy (partial or complete removal of the clitoris); excision (removal of the clitoris and labia minora); infibulation, which is the most extreme ("narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal-the seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching"); and all other "harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area." These procedures can cause a series of health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), excessive swelling, complications during childbirth, and death. In short, FGM is a very serious global problem.
The procedure has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years of jail time for the person found guilty of performing the act. Michigan Governer Rick Snyder signed a new legislation that is much harsher than federal regulations. Under the new state law, doctors who perform FGM, as well as the parents who transport the child to the facility, can serve up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
As of today, more than 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM around the world, most of them under the age of 15. Contrary to popular belief, FGM isn't mandated by religion and it occurs among different groups- Muslims, Christians, and animists included. The ancient practice is deeply rooted in gender inequality and is used in an attempt to control women's sexuality to ensure virginity until marriage and faithfulness in marriage. (For the record, the clitoris is hardly an "on/off switch" for sexual desire.)
The number of women who've undergone FGM or who are at risk for undergoing the procedure has more than tripled in the U.S. since 1990 (an alarming 506,795), according to a report published by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is mostly because of the surge of immigrants from countries where FGM is popular. Still, only 24 states (not including Michigan) have enacted legislation. Even then, laws vary based on age and whether the person was taken out of the country. Texas, for example, lowered imprisonment to between 6 months and 2 years, and Colorado only punishes those who perform the procedure on girls 16 and younger, according to Equality Now.
Today, the three defendants charged with performing FGM in Michigan have all pleaded not guilty. In court, their attorney argued that a "scraper" was used on the girls to perform a religious ritual but they were never cut, the Detroit Free Press reported. But Governor Snyder has no intention of letting this incident slide.
"Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and these bills stiffen the penalties for offenders while providing additional support to victims," he said according to the Washington Post. "This legislation is an important step toward eliminating this despicable practice in Michigan while empowering victims to find healing and justice."