UPDATE: On Friday 21 April, a Michigan doctor and his wife were arrested and charged with conspiracy to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) at their medical clinic in a Detroit suburb.
Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, are accused of conspiring with Dr. Nagarwala by allowing the doctor to use their clinic in Livonia, Michigan to perform the illegal procedures after hours. The three are the first people charged under the US federal law that criminalizes FGM.
Director of Equality Now's America Office, Shelby Quast, said of the recent arrests, "We are not surprised but encouraged to see the US Department of Justice prioritizing their efforts around doctors performing FGM and arresting doctors involved in performing FGM. This case is raising much needed awareness that FGM is illegal. The US needs to do more to protect all children from all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation."
She added that it is important to address the myths surrounding female genital mutilation, "FGM is not a religious requirement, there are no religious texts that require FGM. FGM does not exist in only one community but occurs across the US and across the globe. FGM has no health benefits but causes lifelong physical and psychological harm. FGM is child abuse and it is illegal in the US."
On Wednesday 12 April, a Michigan doctor was arrested and charged with performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on two 7-year-old girls.
This is the first case brought by US prosecutors under 18 U.S.C. 116, first passed in 1996, that criminalized FGM.
Female Genital Mutilation is a human rights violation and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women. It is a form of child abuse often carried out on girls between infancy and age 15. FGM has zero health benefits and often results in lifelong health problems. Typically seen as a rite of passage into womanhood, it is ultimately a way to control girls’ and women’s sexuality.
FGM is a global issue - more than 200 million girls and women around the world today have undergone some form of FGM. In the US alone, 513,000 women and girls have experienced or are at risk of FGM.
The US Attorney’s Office says 44-year-old Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, was charged in a Detroit federal district court with performing FGM, which is a five-year felony. FBI officials launched an investigation after being tipped off that Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedure on two 7-year-old girls, who travelled with their parents from Minnesota in early 2017. A medical examination carried out in April on the girls found abnormal genitalia with scar tissue and healing lacerations. According to the criminal complaint, “multiple” other girls, including some from Michigan, may have also been victimized between 2005 and 2007.Though Nagarwala denied cutting the girls, a judge ordered Dr. Nagarwala to be jailed pending trial citing “clear and convincing evidence that (Nagarwala) poses a danger to the community.”
“We are encouraged to see a doctor being charged for performing FGM because this will have a big impact on others who are performing this illegal act,” said Shelby Quast, the Director of Equality Now's America Office, “This sends a message to other doctors that if you violate the law, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted."
Equality Now has been fighting for 25 years to end FGM around the world. Founded in 1992, we took on this issue when no other human rights organization would address it. Before the US had a law criminalizing FGM, we helped Fauziya Kasinga receive political asylum after she fled her home country of Togo to avoid undergoing FGM. The decision established a precedent in the US that FGM constitutes a form of persecution. It was this effort that helped push the federal anti-FGM law into the spotlight.
We were a key force in advocating for an amendment to the anti-FGM law that made it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the US for the purpose of inflicting FGM. By closing this loophole, the law now addresses “vacation cutting,” which refers to American girls who are taken out of the country to undergo FGM over their summer break from school.
Equality Now worked closely with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to elevate the issue of FGM to the national stage. We also campaigned with survivor activist Jaha Dukureh on her successful 2014 change.org petition that called on the government to commission a report on the current statistics of women in the US impacted by FGM and the girls at risk of being mutilated.
US federal laws and policies recognize FGM as an extreme form of violence against women and girls and child abuse. Currently, only 25 states have a law against FGM, and not all of them have closed the loophole for “vacation cutting.” Virginia was the most recent state to pass a law against FGM and Massachusetts has efforts underway. In Michigan, where Dr. Nagarwala was charged, there is no state law criminalizing FGM.
Top recommendations for combating FGM in the US
Today, in an effort to further address this brutal form of violence in the US, Equality Now, Safe Hands for Girls, the United States Institute of Peace and the UN Network to End FGM/C have released a report that details the recommendations developed by the 250 thought leaders who gathered at the first ever End Violence Against Girls: Summit on FGM/C.
The summit, which took place in December 2016 in Washington D.C., was the first international summit of its kind to be held in the US. The summit’s comprehensive approach brought together survivors, law enforcement, health professionals, education experts and religious and community leaders - it is only through this kind of joint effort between key stakeholders that we can end FGM in the US and around the world.
In light of last week’s arrest, it’s more important than ever that we hold health professionals accountable to honor their oath to do no harm. As mandatory reporters of child abuse, physicians should be aware of the US laws against FGM and must be trained on how to recognize girls at risk and compassionately treat patients who have experienced FGM.
Explore the specific sector recommendations below.
Michigan Doctor Is Accused of Genital Cutting of 2 Girls - The New York Times