To: House Human Services
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2222 - Female Genital Mutilation as Child Abuse
Date: March 5, 2019

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports Senate Bill 2222 to make female genital mutilation child abuse under North Dakota law.

In 1995 North Dakota became one of the first states in the nation to criminally prohibit female genital mutilation. The statutory structure, however, does not explicitly state that female genital mutilation is child abuse and is subject to the mandatory reporting requirements. Senate Bill 2222 addresses that oversight.

The statutory structure works like this:

North Dakota Century Code Section 12.1-36-01 makes female genital mutilation a crime. The crime only applies to the individual actually committing the act.

North Dakota Century Code Chapter 50-25.1 is the mandatory reporting chapter. It requires certain professionals to report suspected instances of child abuse, as defined under in Section 14-09-22.

Section 14-09-22 defines child abuse as when a parent, adult family or household member, guardian, or other custodian of a child willfully inflicts or allows to be inflicted on a child “bodily injury” as defined by Section 12.1-01-04. It does not encompass any other acts under the criminal code.(1)

Section 12.1-01-04 defines “bodily injury” as any “impairment of physical condition, including physical pain.”

Reading these statutes together, there is no clear inclusion of female genital mutilation under the definition of child abuse. An argument could be made that female genital mutilation is “impairment of a physical condition.” However, if that was the case, the legislature would not have needed to pass Section 12.1-36-01 since the act would have already been a crime. Indeed, one of the purposes for enacting a separate law on female genital mutilation was to make the act a crime in itself and not dependent on proof of bodily impairment.(2)

Senate Bill 2222 makes clear that female genital mutilation is child abuse and, therefore, also subject to the mandatory reporting provisions. It does this by adding a subsection to the existing law expressly stating that any parent, adult family or household member, guardian, or other custodian of any child who willfully allows a child to be surgically altered under this section is guilty of child abuse under the child abuse statute.

Passage of SB 2222 would not only give state’s attorneys a clear tool to prosecute parents or household members who allow female genital mutilation to occur, but it would also give guidance to mandated reporters so that instances of suspected female genital mutilation could be thoroughly investigated.

We urge a Do Pass recommendation.

(1) Child sexual abuse is addressed in a different subsection.

(2) It also distinguishes the act from male circumcision, which some have argued is also “bodily impairment.”