LANSING, Mich. — Doctors and parents involved in female genital mutilation could go to prison for up to 15 years under bills overwhelmingly approved Tuesday by lawmakers in Michigan, who said harsher penalties are needed in a state where the first federal prosecution of the practice is ongoing.
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the legislation, which would make Michigan the 26th state to ban female genital mutilation. It has been a federal crime for 20 years, punishable by five years in prison.
Legislators said the federal penalty is not severe enough and the Michigan bills would also apply to parents or others who knowingly facilitate genital mutilation, including by transporting girls to another state for the procedure.
“We can’t have Michigan be a destination for this heinous act, this criminal activity, this suppression of women’s rights, this oppression of young girls,” said a bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Klint Kesto of Oakland County’s Commerce Township.
The 13-bill, bipartisan package was introduced after two doctors and one of their wives were indicted in April in an alleged scheme to perform genital mutilation on two girls from Minnesota at a Detroit-area clinic.
Genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision or cutting, has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the United States. But the practice is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Under the Michigan legislation, genital mutilation of girls under age 18 would not be a crime if there is a health necessity. Those accused could not defend themselves in court by saying it is a custom or ritual.
The statute of limitations for criminal charges would be 10 years or by the alleged victim’s 21st birthday, whichever is later. Victims would be able to sue for damages until their 28th birthday, which is longer than the two-year window to bring a civil suit after the discovery of harm.
The state Department of Health and Human Services would develop an educational and outreach program targeting populations including girls who may be at risk of being forced to undergo genital mutilation. Teachers, physicians and police also would receive information.
Amanda Parker, senior director of the New York-based AHA Foundation, which works to oppose violence against girls and women, said Michigan lawmakers are “really ticking all the boxes” with the legislation. Of the 25 states with anti-genital mutilation laws, she said, few have enacted education requirements or longer statutes of limitations.
“This is a procedure that happens to little girls who are typically so young that not only do they not know what’s happening to them, they don’t know that it’s wrong. They don’t know that they have the option to stand up for themselves,” she said.
Texas, which already forbade the practice, enacted a law this month making it illegal to facilitate the transportation of girls undergoing genital mutilation. The law also eliminated consent and custom as defenses to prosecution.
“It’s a good thing that it’s being brought to light and that the perpetrators are being brought to justice,” Parker said. “Attention is being raised around this issue, and it’s terrific that legislators are really looking at this and saying, ‘What do we need to do to better protect women and girls around the United States?'”