Lawmakers want to outlaw female genital mutilation

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Two Republican state senators have introduced legislation to make female genital mutilation a felony crime under state law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The move comes as federal authorities prosecute two Metro Detroit doctors for alleged genital mutilation performed in a clinic with ties to a Farmington Hills mosque. Female genital mutilation is illegal under federal law.

But bill sponsors say the state needs its own tougher statute outlawing the practice to ensure that future female circumcisions do not occur in Michigan. It would join 24 other states that have laws against genital mutilation.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said the proposal was prompted by the unfolding story of charges filed against Northville Dr. Jumana Nagarwala.

Under federal law, female genital mutilation is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The proposed legislation would tack on another 10 years. Bill sponsors Sens. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, and Jones say the state prohibition is necessary to deter people from the practice.

Nagarwala was the first person in the U.S. to be charged in federal court for alleged female genital mutilation. Since then, federal prosecutors have also charged Farmington Hills Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, of committing female genital mutilation.

Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure at Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic in Livonia and his wife is accused of helping Nagarwala perform the mutilations, according to court records. Farida Attar manages the clinic.

The two doctors and Attar’s wife are members of a local Dawoodi Bohra religious community who attend a Farmington Hills mosque. The Dawoodi Bohra is a small Muslim sect from India linked to a mutilation scandal in Australia two years ago.

Jones said Michigan needs to outlaw female genital mutilation so the state doesn’t have to rely on federal prosecutors.

“You can’t always depend on feds to prosecute every case,” Jones said. “I want to make sure that the prosecutors in the state of Michigan have every tool in the tool box to bring people to justice. This is an evil, horrific thing to do to a little girl, and I feel very strongly that we want to take a stand in Michigan that this will never ever be allowed.”

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, called it an act of “barbarism” and said the legislation would make sure that those who cut girls’ genitals “receive the justice they deserve.”

Nagarwala’s lawyer has argued that the Northville doctor was not mutilating girls, but performing a religious ceremony that involved removing skin and burying it in the ground.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan, said there’s nothing wrong, in theory, with mirroring federal law in a state statute. But he said the proposed stiffer penalty for genital cutting is “questionable.”

Walid added, “My sense is that it’s a harsher type of sentencing ... because the individuals involved don’t appear on the surface to look American enough. They look foreign.”

More than 200 million girls and women have had their genitalia mutilated in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, according to the World Health Organization.

The practice is recognized internationally as a human rights violation.


Twitter: @MikeGerstein