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State wants to stop female genital mutilation

People who perform female genital mutilation on a minor could face criminal and civil penalties if a bill now in the state Senate becomes law.

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, involves removal or injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is a cultural procedure for young girls more commonly practiced in some African countries but instances of it in the United States are on the increase as immigrants move here.

“Unfortunately, I am told by members of the community that not only licensed health professionals are involved, that others that are not subject to those license requirements are also involved in this practice in our state,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the bill.

Senate Bill 5453 would allow minors who are victims of female genital mutilation to bring a civil action against people who perform the surgeries.

The civil action would need to be brought within 10 years of the injury, but the statute of limitations does not apply to a minor until they reach the age of 18.

“Until they become 18, they don’t really have the ability to act on their own,” she said. “It's really a kind of combination of trauma and maturity that needs to be considered in this case.”

The bill also makes it unprofessional conduct for any healthcare professional to conduct the operations on a minor, and the Department of Health is directed to establish an education program to prevent the practice.

The bill creates criminal penalties as well. A person performing the operation or knowingly transporting a minor for the purpose of having the procedure would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Criminal prosecutions can be brought up to the victim’s 28th birthday.

Initially, Keiser was not considering including a criminal charge in the bill but changed her mind after community members said it was necessary to ensure effective elimination of the practice.

The bill passed out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Feb. 2.

 
 
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