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Protecting Massachusetts girls from female genital mutilation
Professor Dina Francesca Haynes

New England Law | Boston Professor Dina Francesca Haynes testifies before state legislature

Dec. 4, 2015:  Professor Dina Francesca Haynes, a human rights law authority who has worked on hundreds of cases involving Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), encouraged Massachusetts legislators to expand the rights of women and girls, both those who fear the procedure and ones already suffering from its consequences, in testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“The position of the federal government has been expanding with regard to recognizing FGM as a violation of human rights and a ground for a claim of persecution,” said Haynes in her December 1, 2015, testimony in support of “An Act Establishing Civil and Criminal Penalties for Female Genital Mutilation” (House bill H1530; Senate S1116). The legislation calls for parallel statutes imposing state civil and criminal penalties.

Haynes, who directs the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project, is among the New England Law | Boston faculty members who have joined with a committed alumna in this effort, which may lead to opportunities for student involvement as well.

Practice affects millions worldwide

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where Female Genital Mutilation is concentrated. The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas. (Statistics from the World Health Organization.)

The practice involves the removal of all or a portion of a girl’s healthy genitals to control her sexuality and to make her acceptable for marriage and to the community in which she lives.  It is recognized internationally as a human rights violation, torture, and a form of extreme discrimination against women and girls.  

The draft law before the Massachusetts Legislature includes provisions for mandatory reporting under child abuse laws and civil remedies for victims. A task force has been networking and promoting the proposed legislation to broaden support for it. 

New England Law’s long-term commitment to this issue

"The draft bill was featured at the Women’s Bar Association (WBA) Legislative Breakfast in February 2015, when Gov. Charlie Baker proclaimed, ‘Female Genital Mutilation Awareness Week,’” said Katie Donahue Cintolo ’08, a member since 2013 of the WBA task force leading this effort in Massachusetts. 

New England Law has been involved in this issue, which frequently arises in asylum cases, for some time. In 2008–2009, Professor Haynes, aided by students involved in the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project (a project of the law school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility), researched arguments and wrote an amicus brief for the Matter of A-T-, an asylum request by a woman who was subjected to female genital cutting as a child in Mali.

The amicus brief, signed onto by medical luminaries, including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was cited in a landmark case in which then US Attorney General Eric Holder took the matter directly under his own advisal and reversed earlier Matter of A-T- denials, creating an entirely new legal argument that positively impacts potentially millions of women around the world“This sort of direct action by the attorney general is exceedingly rare, and we are proud to have played such a momentous role in this decision,” said Professor Haynes.  Several of the medical professionals on whose behalf she wrote the amicus brief also testified in support of the bill.

Current students may also be able to contribute their legal skills to this effort. Professor Haynes will continue to make opportunities available to students to work on the substantive law through the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project, while Professor Lisa J. Laplante, who teaches Public International Law, among other courses, and directs the Center for International Law and Policy (CILP), intends to support the WBA task force’s efforts by fostering volunteer involvement in lobbying for the bill. 

“We are pleased to work jointly on this effort to promote the bill and will post opportunities for student participation as they become available,” said Professor Laplante. "This project contributes to the policy work of CILP, which is also supporting the passage of other human rights legislation in Massachusetts."