The United States was shocked to learn about the arrest of a medical doctor from Michigan, who performed female genital mutilation (FGM) on two young children. The practice of FGM is banned throughout the world except for a handful of countries. The arrest of Dr. Jumana Nagarwala by the FBI for performing FGM is the first time the United States government has prosecuted a doctor for the practice. However, the question remains about how much culpability the parents have for transporting their children to the clinic for the illegal procedures.
TheDetroit Free Press reports that two different mothers brought their daughters, ages six and seven, to Dr. Nagarwala for an FGM procedure on the girls. Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedure in a closed and locked clinic as part of a religious Hindu religious ceremony. No records of the procedures were kept, and there was no formal billing of the parents. Both procedures were kept quiet, and the girls were told not to tell anybody about them. Dr. Nagarwala doesn’t deny performing the procedures.
The doctor’s attorney, Shannon Smith, admitted her client did perform medical procedures on the girl’s genitalia, but it didn’t meet the definition of FGM. She said the doctor removed a membrane from the clitoral region, but no cutting was involved. She did not elaborate on how the membrane was removed without cutting anything. Smith said Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedures as part of a religious ceremony. Dr. Nagarwala belongs to an Indian-Muslim sect called Dawoodi Bohra. In the ceremony, a flap of skin is removed from the clitoral region and given to the parents. The parents then bury the tissue as part of the ceremony.
According to the Detroit News, the children said the procedure was painful, they cried, and one said the pain extended to her ankles.
The World Health Organization (WHO) definition of FGM is succinct, and they have also broken it down into four types of procedures.
“Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
The four types vary from the most severe and complicated procedure, Type 1, that involves full or partial removal of the clitoris. Commonly referred to as a clitoridectomy, this method would include removing the prepuce, also known as the foreskin, from the clitoris. This procedure would normally require using a cutting tool.
The least intrusive form of FGM is type 4. WHO defines this as “pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.” The one component of WHO’s definition of all four types of FGM is the phrase “non-medical reasons.” The sticking point for any doctor performing this operation is proving that the operation was performed for medical necessity. According to WHO, there are no health or sanitary benefits to FGM, and it harms the victims.
The FBI arrested Dr. Nagarwala for genital mutilation and transportation with criminal intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She is currently being held in federal custody without bail because she is considered a flight risk and a danger to other children. Child protective agencies have filed protection orders for the two girls. The FBI is not naming the parents to protect the identity of the children.
The parents could face charges of child neglect, child abuse, and transporting their children across state lines for the purpose of criminal sexual activity. Since they transported the children across state lines, the charges are federal and have combined penalties that could lead to sentences of over ten years in federal prison. Even if the parents aren’t charged with crimes, their children could be permanently removed from their custody. Additionally, depending on their immigration status, they could also be deported from the United States. Federal law allows for the deportation of immigrants if they break the law, explicitly mentioned in the statute is “aggravated felony.”
The case is still in the early stages, and what the FBI and courts will produce in the future is still unknown. What is evident is that an FGM religious ceremony that is accepted and performed regularly in other countries is now prevalent in the United States. The concept of “religious freedom” is going to be tested more and more if the procedure continues.
[Featured Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]