01:06 - Source: CNN
First federal genital mutilation case in US

Story highlights

A new series of laws will make penalties for FGM stronger than federal law

The laws were inspired by a case in the state that began earlier this year

CNN —  

A series of new laws passed in Michigan strengthen penalties for female genital mutilation practices in the state. Performing FGM or transporting another person in the state for the purpose of undergoing FGM will be punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 10 years more than the federal penalty for the crime.

The new legislation comes only a few months after the state became the backdrop for the first federal case involving FGM in the United States. Six people were charged for either committing or assisting in performing female genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls, who were brought into Michigan from Minnesota. FGM is illegal in the United States for girls under 18 and is punishable by up to five years in prison, according to national law.

Stronger punishment

FGM is a painful surgical procedure to remove part of the clitoris or clitoral hood to suppress female sexuality. The World Health Organization considers the practice a human rights violation for both girls and women.

No religious texts require FGM. Yet some cultures and sects believe the practice makes for better wives by making girls more acceptable in their communities. The practice aims to reduce a woman’s libido to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity.

In addition to increasing prison sentences for those involved in FGM, the series of 12 bills passed by the Michigan legislature would revoke the license of any health professional who assists in or commits the procedure.

The laws state that saying the operation is “required as a matter of custom or ritual” will not be an acceptable defense for committing the crime. Parental consent is also not a legal defense, according to the new laws.

Governor Rick Snyder signed all 12 bills into law on Tuesday.

“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,” Snyder told CNN 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 original case

Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, his wife, Farida Attar, 50, and Detroit emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala, 44, were arrested and indicted in the initial case back in April. The Attars and Nagarwala face one count of conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation, two counts of female genital mutilation and one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar also face one count of conspiracy to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

“Dr. Attar is not aware of any crimes that occurred at his clinic,” Attar’s defense attorney, Mary Chartier, said. “He has confidence that he will be vindicated through the justice system because he has done nothing to violate the law.”

Since the initial indictment, three more people have been indicted in the same case, bringing the total number of people charged for an initial incident that dates back to February up to six. The case is ongoing.

According to the complaint, the FBI had received information that FGM procedures were being performed at a clinic where Dr. Attar was the director. Court documents do not indicate the source of the information.

The Attars and Nagarwala are members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of Islam, said Victoria Burton-Harris, an attorney for Tahera Shafiq, one of the three people charged since April.

“There was no mutilation of any genitals, of any kind,” Burton-Harris said. “There was no federal crime committed of any type. This is, quite honestly, ignorance of religion that has caused fear and an outright attack on this particular sect of Muslims.”

CNN’s Sonia Moghe, Mayra Cuevas and Jessica Neuwirth contributed to this report.