Senate Passes Bill to Criminalize Female Genital Mutilation

The Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed legislation to criminalize the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting, also known as FGM/C. 

An Act relative to the penalties for the crime of female genital mutilation includes creating education and prevention programs for communities with females who are at a high risk of undergoing genital mutilation, and creating interagency partnerships directed towards prevention. The bill also sets fines and sentences for those who practice female genital mutilation or remove a child from the Commonwealth for the purpose of carrying out this practice.

“One of the most powerful things we can do to create a better Commonwealth and a better world is protect the health and safety of, and empower, women and girls,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), “I am proud of the Senate for voting to take steps to end this practice, which does nothing but cause suffering on so many levels. Thank you Senator Boncore for championing this issue and seeing this bill through.”

“Today, the Senate has stood up to clearly denounce gender-based violence and affirm our commitment to the health and safety of women and girls across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop). “The advocacy and testimonies of survivors, including Mariya Taher, was critical in moving this bill forward. Their resilience and commitment to ensuring that not one more girl suffers is admirable and appreciated. Medical experts have agreed that female genital mutilation has no basis in medical purposes or benefits: it is a method used to control women’s anatomy. By criminalizing female genital mutilation, we tell survivors that they are heard, and we tell girls and women that they are protected from this abuse.”

“Over two years ago, I started a petition with two other Massachusetts-based residents to call attention to the fact that our state did not have a law protecting girls from FGM/C. To date, over 400,000 people have signed it,” said Mariya Taher of Sahiyo. “Today, I am beyond ecstatic to let those petition supporters and let every girl in the Commonwealth know that the Massachusetts Senate passed this bill in a 39-0 vote, to protect girls in our state from undergoing this form of gender-based violence. It has taken many years, many individuals, and many attempts to have a bill passed, and finally, Massachusetts made the right choice. Thank you to Senator Boncore for listening to survivors and letting community members tell their stories of the negative impacts FGM/C has had on their lives, and for leading the charge in the Senate to support them and protect future generations from this form of gender-based violence. Also, my deepest appreciation to Rep. Natalie Higgins and Rep. Jay Livingstone for being the bill sponsors in the House.” 

As of 2020, some 38 states have enacted statewide laws to criminalize and prohibit female genital mutilation. For 20 years, female genital mutilation was illegal in the United States, when a federal law was passed in 1996 banning the practice.

In 2018, a United States District Court overturned the 1996 federal law on technical grounds, citing that Congress had overstepped its authority in interceding in local criminal activity by passing the nationwide ban. In their decision, the court agreed that the practice of female genital mutilation is “despicable” and  “essentially criminal assault.” Since this decision, many state legislatures swiftly passed laws banning female genital mutilation.

Massachusetts would become the 39th state in the country to pass a law criminalizing female genital mutilation should this legislation become law. 

The bill has already passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and now moves to the Governor for his consideration.

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