The state legislature is considering a bill that would outlaw female genital mutilation. While federal law already prohibits the practice, Connecticut is one of 24 states where there is no specific state law making FGM a crime, meaning the state itself cannot bring a prosecution.
FGM is prevalent among some cultures in Africa and the Middle East. It involves the removal of a girl’s clitoris and sometimes other parts of her genitalia. It can cause lifelong pain, increased risk of infection, and loss of sexual pleasure.
The legislature’s Committee on Children this week heard powerful testimony from FGM survivor Kadi Doumbia who was born in Mali, and lives in Chicago.
Now in her 50s, she said she still experiences psychological effects. She described waking one morning recently bathed in sweat.
“I had a nightmare that they cut one of my children,” she said, “and this nightmare felt so real when my eyes opened, that I called my children to make sure that they were fine.”
She testified that children in America are sometimes taken back to their families’ country of origin for mutilation, a practice called vacation cutting.
“It is hard to find the people who are doing it, because we all know that it is illegal in the U.S., and so we take our children back home, we cut them, and we bring them back,” said Doumbia. “If we don’t stand up for our children, the children are going to go through this, and no one is going to know.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the number of women and girls at risk of FGM in the U.S. has risen sharply in recent years because of immigration from affected countries.
Advocate Dorothy Cutter urged the legislators not only to advance the bill, but to strengthen it.
As currently drafted, the bill would make performing FGM a Class D felony, carrying a penalty of one to five years in jail. She wants to see the potential jail time increased to 15 years, and for the bill to mandate an educational outreach campaign to combat the practice.
“The bill in its current form is much too weak to effectively accomplish what is needed to protect our young girls,” she said, noting that Connecticut is at risk of becoming a state where people travel to perform FGM from neighboring states where penalties are more severe.
Cutter described it as a barbaric practice that inflicts excruciating pain and carries the risk of death. “It is done without the benefit of anesthesia,” she said. “It is performed in secret most times by non-professionals using razors, not surgical instruments. There’s no sterilization of these razors. These little children are held down by mothers, grandmas, and aunts.”
She testified that the incidence of FGM in the United States has quadrupled since 1999.
Lawmakers of both parties expressed a willingness to strengthen the bill before passing it out of committee for the consideration of the full legislature.