Legislation will Criminalize Female Genital Mutilation in New Hampshire

By Kimberly Morin

On Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hear testimony on House Bill 1739 (HB 1739), AN ACT prohibiting female genital mutilation.

The legislation is aimed at ending the horrific practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on girls under 18 years of age. FGM is “recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four types of FGM (Warning: this may be graphic to some):

Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).

Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the 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, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women in over 30 different countries who are “alive today” have been subjected to this practice. FGM is most often carried out on young girls under the age of 18. There is an international effort to criminalize and end this practice throughout the world as well as the United States.

The Government Accountability Office release a study on FGM in the U.S. and found the following:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in 2012, a threefold increase from its 1990 estimate.

26 states have criminalized FGM to date and the number is growing. The barbaric act has been illegal at the federal level since 1996, an effort that was brought to the forefront in Congress by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Contrary to popular belief, FGM is not a religious-based practice although some religious leaders have brought this into their religion. FGM is a cultural practice and was once actually practiced in the United States by some and was even recommended by some medical doctors as late as the 1970s.

According to Stop FGM Middle East:

Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. Thus, it has long been concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion.

Why do proponents want to criminalize FGM in state statues? Although this may be federal law, federal prosecutors are spread thinly throughout the country. New Hampshire State prosecutors need to have the tools within state law in order to punish those who continue to perform this heinous abuse.

A recent case came to light in Michigan that shows the need to protect girls from this practice.  The Detroit Free Press reported the findings of Assistant U.S. Attorney, Sara Woodward:

A federal prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Wednesday, telling a federal judge that the government estimates that as many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at the hands of a local doctor and her cohorts.

“Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. (Jumana) Nagarwala,” Woodward said, referring to the lead defendant in the case,  later adding, “The Minnesota victims were not the first victims.”

Against Woodward’s wishes, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted bond to two other defendants in the case: Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, who is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform genital cutting procedures on minor girls; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, who is accused of holding the girls’ hands during the procedure to keep them from squirming and to calm them.

There are 24 states where Female Genital Mutilation is not a crime, New Hampshire is one of them.