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Practice of female genital mutilation draws concern from legislators

Farhio Klalif responds to a question after providing emotional testimony about her experience as a young girl in Somalia. Klalif shared her story at a May 3 House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee hearing on HF2621, sponsored by Rep. Mary Franson, right. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Parents who allow their children to undergo female genital mutilation would be guilty of a felony in Minnesota under a bill heard Wednesday in a House committee. 

“I want to send a strong message to the state of Minnesota that we will not tolerate and we will not approve of a parent that allows their child to be mutilated,” said Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) who sponsors HF2621 that would enhance the practice already considered a crime. She cited a recent case in which authorities allege a Minnesota parents took their two daughters to Michigan for the procedure.  

“It is already a crime for doctors to do it,” Franson said. “It needs to be a crime for the parents to allow it to happen and to put their child through that egregious, egregious act.”

The House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee approved the bill , as amended, by a unanimous, roll-call vote of 15-0 Wednesday (audio). The bill moves next to the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. The companion, SF2355, sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

The committee adopted two amendments that Franson offered Wednesday. The first would designate the day following final enactment as the bill’s effective date. The second would add female genital mutilation to a list of actions defined as abuse in the statute covering mandatory reporting of maltreatment of minors.

HF2621 would also:

  • require the commissioner of health to provide education to communities that traditionally practice female genital mutilation about the parental;
  • remove the requirement for counties to try to reunify a child with parents in child-protection cases in which a parent has been convicted of allowing female genital mutilation;
  • add allowing female genital mutilation to a list of crimes that constitute egregious harm (conviction of which can lead to termination of parental rights);
  • allow police officers who suspect female genital mutilation has occurred or is about to occur to take custody of a child; and
  • clarify that attempting or allowing genital mutilation is grounds for immediate removal of a child from parents’ care.

Franson called female genital mutilation “a human rights issue, a women’s health issue and a gender violence issue,” at the start of a debate that often took an emotional turn.

Bill supporter Farhio Khalif, founder and executive director of Voice of East African Women, Inc., offered testimony that several committee members termed “courageous” about the ritual clitorectomy she underwent as a child in Somalia. Khalif said she had to have “complicated” surgery as an adult to allow her to give birth vaginally.

“We don’t talk about this in our community,” she said, calling it a cultural and sometimes a religious practice. “It’s hush-hush, even in our living rooms.” She said she had only recently learned of Minnesota’s law against the practice.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) questioned whether state law on aiding and abetting crimes already covers parents who allow female genital mutilation. She said the bill lacked guidance on different sentences for different levels of harm.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Mpls) asked Franson what further harm she thought might await victims of the “heinous” procedure who are returned to their parents. Franson cited post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

 “Evidently, current laws are not strong enough,” said Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), committee chair, adding that HF2621 would send a “very strong message that, parents, you will be held accountable.”

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