BOISE — A bill to ban female genital mutilation of children in Idaho was unanimously approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee.
The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, would prohibit female genital mutilation, making it a felony punishable by up to life in prison. It will now head to the full House for a vote.
“We think it’s a pretty elegant solution to a pretty terrible problem,” Nilsson Troy said.
Female genital mutilation, as defined by the World Health Organization, comprises of “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” It is a practice commonly seen in African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The procedure, Giddings said, is most often used as a tool to control female sexuality in some cultures.
Federal law criminalized female genital mutilation in 1996. That law, however, didn’t include ways for states to enforce it. In November, a federal judge in Michigan ruled the nationwide ban “unconstitutional,” stating that it should be left up to the states to regulate, according to the New York Times.
Because most victims are young and may not report genital mutilation to law enforcement until much later in life, HB 114 also changes the statute of limitations to three years after it’s reported, unlike the usual five-year statute of limitations for felonies. Giddings said sometimes genital mutilation can occur in children as young as 3 years old.
“Giddings and I really had some wonderful conversations about how important this was to both of us to make sure that the women reach a point in their life where they feel they can tell and that the clock doesn’t start ticking until they go to law enforcement and take that step,” Nilsson Troy said.
Currently, 28 states have outlawed female genital mutilation. Some states — like Texas — have created strong female genital mutilation laws, which prohibit taking the child out of the state or the country for the procedure, according to Giddings.
Giddings highlighted the difference between female genital mutilation and male circumcision — one common concern raised from outlawing the procedure.
“FGM has no benefits and it can cause lifelong health and physiological consequences,” Giddings said, quoting the AHA Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights. “Immediately after, girls are at the risk of severe pain, shock, bleeding, bacterial infection, and injury to nearby tissue.”
In the long term, Giddings said, girls are at risk for recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility and complications during childbirth.
To become law, the bill must also pass the Senate and receive the governor’s signature.