America’s FGM Shame: Detroit Doctor Charged With Carrying Out Female Genital Mutilation

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a physician who works in the Detroit area in Michigan, is facing federal charges for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on a number of 6- and 7-year-old girls, according to Rare News.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a custom in certain cultural and religious groups around the world, typically in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala performed FMG at a medical clinic in Livonia.

It is believed that this may be the first case of its kind prosecuted under United States federal law. According to the complaint, Dr. Nagarwala removed clitoral skin from two victims, both of whom had been brought to Detroit for that specific purpose. According to one victim, the procedure was so traumatic that she couldn’t walk afterward, and she suffered pain from the mutilation site right through to her ankles.

The FBI described FGM as a barbaric and cruel practice; a practice that violates basic human rights. The practice is known as a “clitoridectomy,” where the clitoris is either removed or mutilated. FGM is performed on women for the sole purpose of removing pleasure from sex. The World Health Organization’s guesstimate is that approximately three million girls are subjected to this horrendous procedure every year.

Dr. Nagarwala faces felony charges of FGM, including transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Each charge carries a sentence from between five and 10 years in prison. Nagarwala also faces conspiracy charges and charges of lying to federal agents.

Kenneth Blanco is Acting Assistant Attorney General and says that Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed “horrifying acts of brutality” on the “most vulnerable victims.”

Last year, a tipster informed the FBI that Dr. Nagarwala was practicing genital mutilation on girls. The first two victims were discovered and authorities are now searching for more. They’ve recently found additional victims who had the procedure performed between the years 2005 and 2007.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

Millions of little girls and young women have been subjected to FGM, a painful rite-of-passage carried out for centuries in various parts of the world. The process involves cutting their genitals, oftentimes without anesthesia.

Some religions and cultures believe that FGM improves hygiene and fertility and that it preserves a girl’s chastity, thus making her more desirable as a marriage partner. However, according to the World Health Organization, there are absolutely no health benefits to this practice.

What it does bring, though, is pain, infections, scars, cysts, psychological trauma, and problems with urination and childbirth. It also leads to a higher risk of infant death. FGM is widely condemned by human rights organizations, not only because of the underlying injustice of the practice but also for the health risks.

“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

Often when FGM is performed abroad, trained circumcisers or midwives travel from village to village performing FGM en masse: they use unsterilized knives, scissors, and razors. Celebrations including singing, food, and gifts often follow the procedures.

According to WHO, a staggering 200 million women and girls alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, with the procedure typically being performed on girls who range from birth to 15-years-old.

The practice of FGM can take various forms: it can involve removing only a portion of the external genitalia, such as the labia minora and the clitoris, or alternatively, it can involve the removal of most of the external genitalia and a narrowing of the vaginal opening. Other dangerous procedures are also carried out, like pricking, scraping, cauterizing, or piercing the genitals.

Even though it is against federal law to practice FGM in the United States, according to Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology cited by Rare News, clitoridectomies were performed on lesbians right up until the 1960s. It was also performed on women who had been diagnosed with hysteria, erotomania, and clitoral enlargement.

Today, it is illegal to remove a girl from the United States in order to have genital mutilation performed elsewhere.

Women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali created the AHA Foundation. She personally suffered FGM as a young girl in Somalia, and she suggests that it’s important for states to pass laws banning the practice, even though there are federal laws in place.

Amanda Parker is senior director of the AHA Foundation, and says that prosecutors need “additional tools to use to prosecute cases,” in order to send “a strong message that this harmful practice is not tolerated here.”

“Until now, there had been no prosecutions under FGM laws to date, but other laws have been used to punish families who cut their daughters.”

Parker referred to a 2006 case in which a father in Georgia was found guilty of cruelty and battery for “removing his daughter’s clitoris” and was ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison. Interesting, after he had served his sentence, he was deported.

Similarly, a mother in Georgia was charged in 2010 after her 10-year-old daughter was found to have been cut.

Parker said that, because FGM is a private ritual that typically occurs within the secrecy of a family, it is difficult to determine how many girls and women have undergone genital mutilation in the United States.

However, in 2014 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 513,000 females in America were either at risk for genital mutilation or had undergone the procedure. In their opinion, that number has doubled since the year 2000.

According to Parker, the numbers are on the rise because of an influx of immigrants from countries where FGM is common.

“The increase in FGM in the U.S. is almost entirely, if not entirely, due to the increase in immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced. Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, and others all have very high rates of FGM with more than 90 percent of girls in each country undergoing this abusive practice. In the U.S., FGM is either performed in secret or girls are taken to their families’ country of origin for the procedure. This is a practice referred to as ‘vacation cutting,’ as it is typically done during school holidays so as not to bring attention to girls being absent from school in order to heal.”

Detroit Free Press reported that protesters in Detroit also want male circumcision banned.

Outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Detroit, protesters argued that, in the wake of the recent charges against Dr. Nagarwala, the circumcision of boys should also be outlawed. The main distinction between male circumcision and female mutilation is that female mutilation has more serious side effects, but protesters say boys also need protection.

After appearing in court for a detention hearing, Dr. Nagarwala was locked up without bond on charges of mutilating two Minnesota girls, and protesters believe that boys must also be protected from this type of procedure, likening circumcision to genital mutilation.

“All babies should be protected and be able to keep their whole bodies. There’s just no reason for any child to be altered at birth or really anytime.”

Jody Farrugia, a registered nurse at the Detroit Medical Center, has long been opposed to circumcision and endeavors to persuade new parents not to follow through with the practice, but she said nobody seems willing to listen.

“I see the risks and harms daily. I always encourage mothers to keep their sons intact but they don’t think twice. They think it’s gross, they think it’s cleaner. I still hear their screams from down the hallway. It haunts me.”

Protest organizers say that, in Michigan alone, the genitals of 49,000 baby boys are cut every year at parents’ request. In their opinion, this procedure denies a boy’s right to normal and intact genitals, questioning why doctors are legally allowed to cut boys’ genitals without any medical necessity – whereas there’s a federal law prohibiting the cutting of girls’ genitals.

Norm Cohan is executive director of NOCIRC in Michigan.

“The genitals of both girls and boys needs to be protected from the harm of any genital cutting practice. Michigan has one of the highest rates of circumcision in the world. This unnecessary custom violates a child’s right to bodily integrity and normal functions.”

An alternative view was provided by medical experts and released by the Atlantic in 2015.

“Male circumcision does no harm. Female gender mutilation does. Male circumcision cuts the foreskin, FGM cuts the clitoris — the two things cut are not even remotely the same. For male circumcision to be equivalent to FGM, the entire tip of the male’s penis would need to be cut off. Constantly trying to claim they are equivalent practices when they are not takes away from the unique seriousness of female ‘circumcision/mutilation,’ as most cases are performed during a traumatic developmental period and remove most sexual sensation, which is not true with male circumcision.”

What do you think? Should male circumcision be outlawed in line with female genital mutilation?

[Featured Image by Studio Evasion/Shutterstock]