Detroit doc­tor charged with fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

A Detroit emer­gency room physi­cian was charged in fed­eral court Thurs­day with per­form­ing fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tions on two girls in what is thought to be the first case of its kind in the U.S., and au­thor­i­ties sus­pect she may have been en­gag­ing in the prac­tice for years.

Dr. Ju­mana Na­gar­wala is ac­cused of per­form­ing mu­ti­la­tion pro­ce­dures this year on at least two girls in a med­i­cal clinic in Livo­nia, Michi­gan. Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve she may have been in­volved in car­ry­ing out other pro­ce­dures as far back as 2005.

The case is be­lieved to be the first in which pros­e­cu­tors have charged some­one with per­form­ing fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, which in­volves the re­moval of all or part of the gen­i­tals, un­der a 1996 fed­eral statute ban­ning the prac­tice in the U.S.

“Fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion con­sti­tutes a par­tic­u­larly bru­tal form of vi­o­lence against women and girls. It is also a se­ri­ous fed­eral felony in the

United States,” said Daniel Lemisch, act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney for the East­ern Dis­trict of Michi­gan, where the charges were filed.

“The prac­tice has no place in mod­ern so­ci­ety, and those who per­form FGM on mi­nors will be held ac­count­able un­der fed­eral law,” he said.

Fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion is prac­ticed most com­monly in the Mid­dle East and Africa, es­pe­cially in ma­jor­ity Mus­lim coun­tries. Its prac­ti­tion­ers gen­er­ally be­lieve it to be re­li­giously man­dated, but schol­ars and the­olo­gians hotly dis­pute that ar­gu­ment. The prac­tice is rare in many other ma­jor­ity Mus­lim so­ci­eties.

The crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in court makes no men­tion of Dr. Na­gar­wala’s re­li­gion or eth­nic back­ground, stat­ing only that she as well as the fam­i­lies of the two girls were mem­bers of a com­mu­nity that is known to con­duct fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tions as part of its re­li­gious and cul­tural prac­tice.

Dr. Na­gar­wala was listed as an emer­gency room physi­cian who speaks both English and Gu­jarati — a lan­guage used in west­ern In­dia — on the web­site of the Henry Ford Health Sys­tem, where she worked.

The Detroit Free Press re­ported that Dr. Na­gar­wala ap­peared in fed­eral court Thurs­day af­ter­noon wear­ing a white head­scarf, glasses and a long white dress with mul­ti­col­ored em­broi­dery. She was or­dered held in de­ten­tion pend­ing the re­sults of a bond hear­ing Mon­day.

The pa­per re­ported that two male fam­ily mem­bers were in the court­room but de­clined to com­ment to re­porters, as did Dr. Na­gar­wala’s de­fense at­tor­ney.

Ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in court, FBI agents were tipped off from uniden­ti­fied sources that Dr. Na­gar­wala was per­form­ing fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion pro­ce­dures.

Agents said they in­ter­viewed two 7-year-old girls who told them that they trav­eled to­gether from Min­nesota with their fam­i­lies to see the doc­tor at a med­i­cal clinic.

One of the girls told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the visit had been billed as a spe­cial girls’ trip, and the other said her par­ents in­structed her not to tell any­one about the pro­ce­dure. The girls de­scribed the pro­ce­dures to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and sub­se­quent ex­am­i­na­tions showed ev­i­dence that their gen­i­talia had been cut.

A par­ent of one of the vic­tims told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they had taken the girl to the doc­tor for a “cleans­ing” of ex­tra skin, the court doc­u­ments state.

A Michi­gan branch of child pro­tec­tive ser­vices sub­se­quently con­ducted in­ter­views of other girls in the area, and the chil­dren in­di­cated that they had un­der­gone sim­i­lar pro­ce­dures by Dr. Na­gar­wala, the af­fi­davit states.

A Henry Ford spokesman told The Detroit News that the doc­tor was put on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

“The al­leged crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity did not oc­cur at any Henry Ford fa­cil­ity,” health sys­tem spokesman David Ole­jarz told the pa­per. “We would never sup­port or con­done any­thing re­lated to this prac­tice.”

The court doc­u­ments do not iden­tify the med­i­cal clinic where the pro­ce­dures took place and state only that the doc­tor was not em­ployed at that clinic.

A study last year by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion es­ti­mated that 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. had un­der­gone or were at risk of be­ing sub­jected to fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion.

Some cul­tures be­lieve the painful pro­ce­dures will ini­ti­ate girls into adult­hood or en­sure their vir­gin­ity or fidelity, ac­cord­ing to Equal­ity Now, a hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­og­nizes fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion as a hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion.

The U.S. out­lawed the prac­tice in 1996, but pros­e­cu­tors said this case is be­lieved to be the first in which fed­eral charges have been brought un­der that law.

In 2006, Ge­or­gia pros­e­cu­tors ob­tained a con­vic­tion for ag­gra­vated bat­tery and cru­elty to chil­dren against a fa­ther who used a pair of scis­sors to re­move his daugh­ter’s cli­toris. The fa­ther, Khalid Adem, was an Ethiopian im­mi­grant who spent 10 years in prison and was de­ported from the U.S. this year.

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