East Grand Forks mother faces felony child abuse in case drawing worldwide attention from Somalis

When child protective services took Nimo Khalif’s children from her custody, she pleaded to the Somali community for help. Now, for the first time, she’s being charged with felonies of child abuse.
Nimo Khalif, a Somali mother whose children were removed by child protective services, walks out of the Polk County Courthouse on Monday, March 2, 2020. Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

A Somali mother in northwestern Minnesota, whose six children were removed from her care in January, was charged Monday with five counts of felony child abuse, according to a criminal complaint.


Nimo Khalif, 33, who came to the U.S. five years ago from a refugee camp in Kenya, was accused of subjecting her children to “cruel publishment,” including hitting them with a power cord, wooden spoons, plates, phone chargers and sometimes strangling them. The complaint said Nimo, who lives in East Grand Forks, would allegedly hit her children with a wooden spoon when they didn’t read the Qur’an correctly. 


One of the daughters told a police officer that her mother once strangled her and that she “almost died.” Nimo’s six-year-old son also said his mother hit him in his private area “very hard.”


A nurse who examined the children found burn scars and other scars on their arms and elbows, which were allegedly caused by strikes from a broken broomstick or phone charger.


Nimo told Sahan Journal that the allegations are “false.” She denied that she physically abused her children.






Nimo made her first court appearance on Tuesday. Her bail was set at $5,000 with no conditions. She’s expected to appear at court hearings and cooperate in the case. She was released from jail on Tuesday. 


If convicted, Nimo faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine in each of the five counts. 


Nimo remains employed at Central Middle School, where two of her daughters are students. 


The investigation into child abuse was sparked by a fight between Nimo and one of her daughters. According to the complaint, Nimo accused her daughter of improperly wearing her hijab and disproved of her wearing pants. In Somali culture, some parents don’t allow their daughters to wear pants or go outside the house without a hijab.


During the fight, Nimo allegedly threw a pot at her daughter, hitting her nose. The daughter then reported her mother’s alleged physical abuse to school officials. Nimo’s daughter also accused her mother of abusing all of her siblings, who are aged between 11 months to 16 years.


A school resource officer from the department conducted an investigation in mid-January and soon contacted the county’s social services department.


On Jan. 22, social services workers and police came to the schools that Nimo’s children attend and took them into protective custody.


A distraught Nimo then posted a video pleading in Somali for help. The video spread across social media, and hundreds of supporters came to an initial hearing in the custody case.


With no information about the allegations, people questioned why the county took all of Nimo’s children from her custody. Still, they kept attending her hearings.


Now, for the first time, the community is learning some of the allegations facing Nimo.


Her pretrial hearing in the criminal case was scheduled for May 12.

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is the founder, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to chronicling the struggles, successes and transformations of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities.


He previously worked as a staff writer for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News. He has also written for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed News and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.


Mukhtar is among the first of his generation’s professional, accomplished journalists of Somali background in Minnesota and in the country. His leadership has been recognized with many awards and accomplishments and is sought-after speaker and panelist at leading institutions, organizations and conferences around the United States.

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