Michigan imposes prison term for female genital mutilation

Doctors, parents and others involved in female genital mutilation in Michigan will face up to 15 years in prison under new laws signed Tuesday that were sparked by an ongoing criminal case involving six young girls.

The legislation stemmed from a federal case against six people connected to an India-based Muslim sect called Dawoodi Bohra who are accused of being involved in the genital mutilation of two girls from Minnesota and four from Michigan. The procedures were allegedly carried out by a doctor at a clinic in suburban Detroit.

"Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and these bills stiffen the penalties for offenders while providing additional support to victims," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. "This legislation is an important step toward eliminating this despicable practice in Michigan while empowering victims to find healing and justice."

The practice, also known as female circumcision or cutting, is a federal crime punishable by five years in prison. But the new Michigan laws — which also give prosecutors and victims more time to pursue such cases — create harsher penalties for procedures that have been condemned by the United Nation but are common for girls in some parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Michigan is the 26th state to officially ban the practice in the U.S. The state laws take effect in October.

The new laws apply to parents or others who knowingly facilitate genital mutilation, including by transporting girls to another state for the procedure. Defendants in such cases will not be able to defend themselves in court by saying it is a custom or ritual.

Under the laws, the statute of limitations for criminal charges to be filed will be 10 years or by the alleged victim's 21st birthday, whichever is later. Victims will be able to sue for damages until their 28th birthday, which is longer than the previous two-year window after the discovery of harm.

The state Department of Health and Human Services will develop an educational and outreach program targeting specific populations, including girls who may be at risk. Teachers, physicians and police also will receive information.

Advocates say few states have enacted education requirements or longer statutes of limitations.

"This barbaric procedure has no accepted health benefits and is only performed to exercise control over young women," said one of the bill sponsors, Republican Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton. "We owe it to our girls to give law enforcement and prosecutors every available tool to bring the perpetrators to justice."

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