By Kimberly Morin
Today, the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1739 (HB 1739), AN ACT prohibiting female genital mutilation. The hearing was led by testimony from the bill’s main sponsor, Representative Victoria Sullivan (R-Manchester).
Sullivan spoke about the barbaric practice and explained that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not a religious-based practice but that it is cultural based:
According to the World Health Organization, there is no medical reason to have this procedure. It is considered a human rights violation. FGM is not a religious ritual as is commonly thought. In fact, it pre-dates most organized religion. This is a cultural practice that mutilates the genitals of young girls as a way to control their sexuality. This barbaric procedure often results in severe bleeding, lifelong problems urinating, infections, painful intercourse, cysts later in life, complications in childbirth, increased risk of newborn fatalities and death of the mother during delivery.
Sullivan’s goal is to protect young girls from this horrific practice that is both physically and emotionally damaging to them for the rest of their lives.
Representative Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) also testified at the hearing and spoke about a book she read in which the author, a victim of FGM, described this horrifying and heinous practice.
Representatives Lisa Freeman (R-Manchester), Ed Comeau (R-Brookfield, Effingham, Ossipee, Wakefield), Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), Jess Edwards (R-Auburn, Chester, Sandown) and Larry Gagne (R-Manchester) were in attendance at the press conference hosted by Sullivan after the hearing. The Honorable Joe Hannon was also in attendance.
The bill’s aim is simple, to criminalize FGM at the state level in New Hampshire. There are over 500,000 girls and women in the United States who are at risk for or who “had been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in 2012,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three doctors were recently arrested in Detroit for performing FGM on an estimated 100 little girls.
FGM has been illegal at the federal level since 1996 thanks to efforts by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 26 states have since enacted similar legislation. New Hampshire will be the 27th state to criminalize FGM if the legislation is signed into law.
HB 1739 passed the house on a voice vote after passing unanimously out of the Criminal Justice Committee. Governor Sununu has already stated that he will sign this legislation if it passes the senate.
The most emotional testimony of the hearing came from an actual survivor of FGM, Kadi Doumbia. She told the story about the physical and psychological trauma that she still lives with today as a result of having this heinous practice forced upon her as a very young child. Doumbia is an activist from Mali who hails from Chicago today and fights to end female genital mutilation around the world.
During her testimony, as she explained the importance of criminalizing FGM to the senate committee, Doumbia tearfully told the story about the scarf she was wearing. It was a gift from a young girl she tried to save from this barbaric practice in her home country. Unfortunately, she was unable to convince the girl’s parents about the damaging effects of FGM, which is still legal in Mali.
James Middlebrook from America Matters also testified in support of the legislation. The organization released a statement from CEO Samantha Nerove prior to the hearing:
New Hampshire is one step closer to criminalizing FGM. More importantly, they are one step closer to protecting at-risk girls. Laws don’t stop crimes from occurring, but without a law it’s not a crime and that makes it tough to stop wrongful actions.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence as well as the New Hampshire ACLU also signed in to support the legislation.
The bill will be voted on by the committee over the next couple of weeks and then make its way to the senate for a full senate vote.