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Emergency-room doctor in US Arrested in Michigan for performing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on girls between ages of 6 and 8

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FILE - A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA
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US, An emergency-room doctor in the U.S. Midwest has been arrested and charged with performing female genital mutilation on girls between the ages of 6 and 8, in the first criminal case brought under a 1996 law that outlawed the practice.

Jumana Nagarwala, a 44-year-old doctor at a hospital in Detroit, Michigan, is accused of performing genital mutilation on young girls as far back as 2005, according to a criminal complaint released Thursday. The U.S. Department of Justice said she “performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims.”

Nagarwala had an initial court appearance before a U.S. magistrate Thursday in Detroit and was ordered detained until Monday, pending a further hearing on the felony charges she is facing, which specifically involve two 7-year-old girls she operated on in February.

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Senior officials called the charges “disturbing” and “deplorable,” and said U.S. law-enforcement agencies “are committed to doing whatever is necessary to bring an end to this barbaric practice, and to ensure no additional children fall victim to this procedure.”

Physician denies charges

A preliminary criminal complaint released by the U.S. Department of Justice said Nagarwala told federal agents she knew that performing female genital mutilation is a crime in the United States and denied that she conducted the procedure on anyone.

Nagarwala, who received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, has been licensed as a physician in Michigan since 2001; state records show no formal complaints or disciplinary action against her. Her lawyer, Shannon Smith, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

FILE – A man’s T-shirt reads “Stop the Cut” referring to Female Genital Mutilation during a social event advocating against such harmful practices at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

If convicted, Nagarwala faces a fine and up to five years in prison for performing female genital mutilation, also known as FGM. She would be the first person prosecuted under the 1996 law prohibiting FGM.

In the most recent case outlined in the complaint, the FBI, using court-ordered telephone records and video surveillance, tracked two Minnesota mothers and their 7-year-old daughters as they visited Nagarwala at a medical office near Detroit, and where the physician allegedly performed FGM procedures on the girls two months ago.

Examination confirms FGM

One of the children told an investigator this week that they were in Michigan to see a doctor because “our tummies hurt,” and were examined by Nagarwala. The doctor reportedly told the girl she was going to perform a procedure to “get the germs out” of her body.

Doctors who examined the girls this week confirmed that their genital areas were “abnormal” and bore signs of mutilation.

The girls were interviewed by an FBI child forensic expert and identified Nagarwala as the doctor who operated on them. The parents of one of the victims later admitted to the FBI that they had taken their daughter to Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin.

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The hospital that employed Nagarwala apparently was not involved in the case, and the physician was not listed as having any links to the office in Livonia, outside Detroit, where she examined the girls.

Agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, who worked together on the case, said they have identified multiple other incidents where young girls have been victims of FGM allegedly performed by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2007, according to the criminal complaint.

“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch of the Eastern District of Michigan said in a statement. “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.”

А traditional surgeon is seen holding razor blades used to carry out female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation. VOA

Female genital mutilation, sometimes called female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and last year UNICEF estimated that 200 million women alive today in 30 countries — 27 African nations, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen — have undergone the procedure.

Many U.S. women at risk

Although it is illegal, female genital mutilation is practiced in some African diaspora communities in the United States. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, more than 500,000 women and girls were at risk of female genital mutilation or its consequences in the United States, more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 census data. The study said the increase was due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where the procedure is commonly practiced.

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In 2012, Congress passed a law making it illegal to transport a girl outside the United States for the purpose of performing FGM.

The practice is rooted in attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty that persist in some communities. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, some of whom see it as an honorable practice, or who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.

There are no known health benefits from female circumcision, but a wide range of complications can result: recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth and even fatal bleeding.

A survivor’s story

“When we think of female genital mutilation, we usually think of African cultures and non-Christian religions,” said Renee Bergstrom, an American survivor of genital cutting. “However, my FGM took place in white Midwest America.”

Bergstrom and other women discussed the issue in a video produced by the U.S. State Department and posted online last month.

Until Nagarwala’s arrest, the most high-profile case related to FGM in the United States was that of a father in the state of Georgia. Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian citizen, was deported last month after serving 10 years in prison for using scissors to cut the genitals of his 2-year-old daughter. He was charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to children, not under terms of the federal FGM law invoked in Nagarwala’s case. (VOA)

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  • Lorna Montie Novach

    This is disturbing. I’ve heard of this, but had no idea it was being done here in the US.

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The Risk of FGM Hangs Above British Schoolgirls During Holiday Break

Ending FGM requires multiple entry points (and) enabling families and communities to be proactive in ending the practice of FGM is ultimately the most effective channel

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Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads "The power of labor against FGM" is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

As many families prepare to holiday abroad during the festive season, British charities on Monday warned that girls taken overseas could be at risk of female genital mutilation(FGM)

Known as FGM, female genital mutilation is a ritual that usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, including the clitoris. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections.

Cutting affects an estimated 200 million girls worldwide and is a rite of passage in many societies, often with the aim of promoting chastity, with the highest prevalence in Africa and parts of the Middle East.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM. Many cases go unnoticed because they had happened at a young age and abroad, campaigners say. Campaigners say teachers should look out for warning signs, such as when a child is taken abroad for a long time to a country where there is a high prevalence of female genital mutilation.

FGM
– A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

“The best way of preventing the practice is by working with girls and their families … and training professionals like teachers and social workers to spot girls at risk of FGM,” said Leethen Bartholomew, head of Britain’s National FGM Center.

Some warning signs that a girl might have been cut include difficulty walking or sitting down, spending a long time in the toilet or becoming withdrawn, said the Center, run by children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association.

FGM has been a criminal offense in Britain since 1985. Legislation in 2003 made it illegal for British citizens to carry out or procure female genital mutilation abroad, even in countries where it is legal.

In 2015, it became mandatory for health professionals, social workers and teachers in Britain to report known cases of FGM to police.

FGM
FILE – A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

The practice mostly affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.

British-based charity Forward, which supports FGM survivors from African communities, said though teachers have a crucial role to play, they should not stigmatize certain communities.

“While teachers need to be alert at all times about safeguarding children in their care, we also need to ensure that some communities are not unduly targeted and stigmatized,” said Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of FORWARD.

Also Read: Female Genital Mutilation Unconstitutional: Michigan Judge

“Ending FGM requires multiple entry points (and) enabling families and communities to be proactive in ending the practice of female genital mutilation is ultimately the most effective channel,” she said in emailed comments to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain in November pledged $63 million to combat female genital mutilation in Africa. (VOA)