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Senate toughens penalty for female mutilation

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Doctors or other individuals who perform female genital mutilation on young girls in Michigan could face up to 15 years in prison under legislation unanimously approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

The bills would toughen a five-year federal penalty roughly one month after two suburban Detroit doctors and a spouse were criminally charged for allegedly cutting 7-year-old girls and conspiring to cover up the crime. It was the first federal indictment of its kind in the country.

The legislation would make clear that the cultural practice — which experts say serves no legitimate medical purpose — is “not welcome in Michigan,” said Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, who sponsored one of the measures.

“We want to support our girls and our women. We want to make sure they don’t have to experience this. It’s physical abuse, but it’s also emotional abuse. It’s very horrific.”

The Senate legislation would prohibit a person from knowingly circumcising, removing or sewing together the labia major, labia minor, clitoris or vaginal tissue of anyone under the age of 18 in Michigan. Violators could not cite custom or ritual as a defense.

Southeast Michigan is a “hot spot” for female genital mutilation, a national expert told legislators two weeks ago.

As many as 200,000 girls in the United States are “at risk” each year because they are of age or belong to a group that practices general mutilation, said Lori Post, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University.

“She told me and told the Judiciary Committee that the entire world is watching Michigan,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “I think today what we have done in the Senate, and I hope will be done soon in the House, is we have taken a stand that five years isn’t enough.”

The legislation would also make it a 15-year felony to transport a girl from Michigan to another state or country for female general mutilation.

“It is a very evil, horrific, demonic act,” Jones said. “It’s an attack on little girls. There is no excuse for it.”

Female genital mutilation is most prevalent in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East but has been condemned by international organizations, including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Northville Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was charged with female genital mutilation last month in federal court. Federal prosecutors also later charged Farmington Hills Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar.

Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure at Attar’s clinic in Livonia, Attar’s 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.

Female genital mutilation is not a Muslim practice, Post said in committee, but the harmful traditional practice is most common in areas with large Middle Eastern immigrant populations such as Metro Detroit.

“This has nothing to do with religion,” Jones said. “This is about controlling women, and it is an attack on humanity.”