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House widens effort to fight female genital mutilation

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News
Hoitenga

Lansing —House lawmakers are widening the effort to deter female genital mutilation in Michigan by expanding the scope of legislative proposals beyond criminalizing the practice.

The House package would offer legal recourse to victims, extend the statute of limitations for survivors and revoke health care licenses for those convicted after two suburban Detroit doctors were charged federally with cutting 7-year-old girls.

Nearly two-thirds of House members already support the package, said one bill sponsor, Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton.

Hoitenga said 70 lawmakers, including Republicans and Democrats, have told her they would cosponsor the legislation, which is more “comprehensive” than a separate plan the Senate approved Wednesday that criminalizes the practice under state law.

Fellow sponsor Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said the House package would make the practice illegal under state law in addition to offering new education programs and updating a police training program, among other changes.

Chang said it “doesn’t hurt” to have two plans in both chambers at once.

But Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who sponsored one of the bills adopted by the Senate, said he hopes House lawmakers approve the Senate bills first because it could clear the remaining hurdles to becoming law quicker.

“I don’t believe that (Judiciary Committee) Chairman Klint Kesto would be foolish enough to delay protecting women and children,” Jones said.

Rep. Kesto, R-Commerce Township, chairs the House panel considering both packages and did not return a call from The Detroit News.

The House plan has emerged after the Senate passed legislation to make the practice punishable by a 15-year prison sentence under state law. The Senate bills have been sent to the House, which announced its competing package on Thursday.

Chang

The House plan includes the same prison sentence that would also apply to those who “transport a person for that purpose,” according to a co-sponsorship memo for the House package.

Recent news about federal authorities prosecuting two Metro Detroit doctors for alleged genital mutilation performed in a clinic with ties to a Farmington Hills mosque prompted the legislation, Chang and Hoitenga said.

Federal authorities charged Northville Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Farmington Hills Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, of committing female genital mutilation. Nagarwala was the first person in the United States to be charged in federal court with alleged female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison. But Michigan lawmakers have said the federal penalty doesn’t go far enough and that state authorities are powerless to prosecute cases in Michigan for lack of a state prohibition.

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.

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.

“It’s 2017. The United Nations has been working on this issue and it’s happening in our own state … which is honestly horrifying,” Chang said.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com