Female Genital Mutilation Hearing Gets Heated in St. Paul

Barbs and accusations were thrown between members of the Civil Law committee while listening to a bill on female genital mutilation.

Image Credit: Preya Samsundar/Alpha News MN

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers heard heartbreaking testimony about female genital mutilation (FGM) in the House Committee on Civil Law and Data Practices Policy on Wednesday.

Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) recently introduced a bill to increase the criminal penalties for FGM procedures.

As reported by Alpha News, Franson introduced HR 2621 in the Minnesota House in response to reports that a Detroit-area doctor had performed an FGM procedure on two 7-year-old girls from the state of Minnesota. So far, three individuals, two of whom are doctors, have been charged with a federal crime.

Franson told the committee that a constituent had contacted her last year about introducing the bill, but thought Minnesota was covered in terms of FGM laws.

“This is a human rights issue and a women’s issue,” Franson told the lawmakers.

Breaking down in tears, Franson described how one of the young Minnesota girls was removed from her home for 72 hours, before being allowed to return home as long as the family provided physical and mental care, and allowed a social worker into their home. The other young girl was placed in foster care and her whereabouts are currently unknown.

Franson introduced a guest, Farhio Kalif from Minneapolis, who talked about her own experience with female genital mutilation.

“As a little girl, I remember it happened to me. It is something that all Somali girls have to go through. I was seven or nine. I remember running way. I ran so fast, my cousins and brothers were sent to chase me to cut me. I stayed in the tree until it was dark, and my cousins and brothers eventually left. I slept in a tree. My mother and the elders grabbed me when I was asleep. My legs and arms were tied each side and I was blind sided. It was painful. I woke up and there was blood all over. I remember seeing an elder holding clitoris and dangled it saying, ‘now you see it.’”

Kalif later married an American soldier. She talked about how he could never understand what she went through and how she suffered with health issues and trying to give birth to her son as a result.

“Today in America, people are still practicing. I’m in support [of Franson’s bill]. I hope she gets your support. They [parents] don’t know better. Please, please listen to Representative Franson, She knows what she is talking about,” Kalif said.

DFL members of the committee questioned whether the bill was truly necessary. Reps. Debra Hilstrom (D-Brooklyn Park) and John Lesch (D-St. Paul) have legal backgrounds and asked whether other Minnesota laws punished the parents involved. Hilstrom brought up the “aide and abet” statute, which criminally charged an individual who is complicit or has knowledge of a crime being committed.

“I just want to make sure the intent is there,” Hillstrom told Franson.

Things became heated when Lesch congratulated Franson on getting press attention. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) shared Lesch’s sentiments.

“I don’t want us to create laws because we want to get into the media and because we want a flashy headline,” Omar told Franson.

Chair Peggy Scott (R-Andover) was quick to rebuke Omar’s statements.

“I take offense with your comments that it is for the media. Child abuse to this level should not be tolerated,” Scott said, “It’s our job as the legislature to protect them.”

The bill, which also calls for the immediate removal of a child from the home if there are signs that an FGM procedure was attempted or had taken place, received criticism from Omar. She questioned whether it was necessary to remove the child from the home if the act had already been done.

Scott interjected, “If a child was abused in another setting, would we think it was ok? I have to say no.”

Franson became upset when Lesch told the group, “Often times it’s tempting to pass window dressing.”

“What a disgusting and vile thing to say. We are talking about sexually abusing girls,” Franson said.

Members of the committee who spoke also shared their sentiments of how horrifying FGM was and that they wanted to work with Franson on making the bill stronger.

“We all think this is heinous and we want to work with you on strengthening this bill,” Omar said. However, she again shared similar sentiments with Lesch by telling Franson, “We don’t want to rush this bill because it’s convenient at the moment.”

Rep. Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen) defended the bill’s Republican-only authors, telling the group that FGM procedures needed to end in Minnesota before calling for a roll call vote. Members of the committee voted unanimously to pass the bill onto the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee.

Preya Samsundar

Preya Samsundar was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN. She graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities this Spring with a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology, with a minor in Strategic Communications. Preya has previously worked on several State Campaign Races.