- Associated Press - Friday, May 19, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Some members of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities are opposing legislation that would impose stiff penalties on parents involved in female genital mutilation, slowing the bill’s momentum.

Nonprofit organization Isuroon, the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage and other groups say the legislation carries overly harsh punishment and unintended consequences, the Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/2q3tsWV ). They’re calling for a less punitive approach focused on educating parents.

The bill makes it a felony for parents to subject their daughters to genital mutilation. It calls for loss of custody and prison sentences between five and 20 years, depending on the extent of the injuries. It also would increase the penalties for those who perform the procedure, which has been illegal since the 1990s.

The bill also would require health care providers and others to report genital mutilation to authorities. Immigrant and refugee advocates say it’s possible that new immigrants from countries where genital cutting is common wouldn’t seek medical care and other services for their children.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, the author of the bill’s Senate version, is having second thoughts on the bill.

“We all agree this practice is absolutely horrible, and something needs to be done,” Housley said. “How can we empower communities to address this practice from within rather than having Big Brother come down and say, ‘This is wrong’?”

Republican Rep. Mary Franson, who introduced the bill in the House, said the Senate is being pressured from groups “more concerned with perception than doing the right thing and protecting girls.”

“Watering down the bill really does a disservice to the little girls who are in danger,” she said.

The bill was supported by all but four of the nearly 130 House members who voted, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, the country’s first Somali-American legislator.

Genital mutilation has roots in various cultures in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It’s generally performed as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood.

But it’s difficult to gauge how often genital cutting occurs in the U.S. - a 2012 study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 513,000 girls in the country had been subjected to or were at risk of undergoing genital cutting.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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