Senate Committee Passes Bill to Strengthen Female Genital Mutilation Law

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To Texas State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flowermound), Texas's law prohibiting female genital mutilation simply didn't go far enough.

The practice has been common in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and is performed on girls as a way to control their sexuality, deterring them from having sex because of the pain.

While Texas has outlawed mutilation of female genitals for the past 20 or so years, a new bill filed by Nelson this week makes it clear that religion, cultural customs or rituals are not defenses to mutilating genitals. It's a state felony carrying punishment up to two years in state jail, and Nelson's bill also subjects anyone who "transports" girls to have the procedure done to them. A parent or guardian's consent to the procedure also isn't a defense, Nelson added to the law.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on State Affairs unanimously passed the bill, just two days after it was filed. Senators also unanimously approved Nelson's late filing of the bill — the deadline was March 10. It will head to the Senate floor for a vote.

An April 24 National Public Radio report about female genital mutilation, featuring an interview with a woman from Texas, reportedly inspired Nelson's bill.

The woman, Tasneem Raja, a journalist living in Tyler, Texas, had been a victim of female genital mutilation when she was a kid living in the United States. It was a religious practice in her sect of Islam, the Dawoodi Bohras (though Raja noted it is not common practice in Islam as a whole), and just this month a Michigan doctor belonging to the same sect was arrested for cutting the genitals of six- and seven-year-old girls. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was charged with "transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity" and performing genital mutilation on the girls.

As NPR reported, according to court documents, the girls were told it was a "special girls' trip."

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