Two doctors charged criminally in the United States’ first federal prosecution of female genital mutilation (FGM) — a procedure in which girls’ genitalia is cut or removed — saw the most serious charges against them dismissed this week in a major moment in the heavily-scrutinized case.
In April of 2017, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, both based in Michigan, were arrested and charged with several crimes in connection with conducting FGM on two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota.
But on Sunday the judge overseeing the case, US District Judge Bernard Friedman, dismissed the most serious charge lobbied against them — the charge of conspiracy to transport minors “with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity” — the Detroit Free Press reported.
In his ruling, Friedman said that while FGM is a “prohibited criminal act” it does not qualify as “criminal sexual activity,” the Detroit News reported.
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The World Health Organization considers FGM a violation of human rights and FGM has been banned across the US since 1996, according to CNN. In 2013, stricter legislation made “vacation cutting” — the transportation of a girl out of the US to undergo FGM procedures — illegal as well.
In Michigan, the term “sexual activity” is not clearly defined in legislation, but federal prosecutors argued that the “criminal sexual activity” charges against the doctors should stand “because the cutting and penetration alleged in the indictment constitute violations of Michigan’s criminal sexual conduct statute.”
The prosecution is considering appealing the judge’s decision, the Detroit News reported; however, the doctors still face several other charges — including conspiracy to commit genital cutting — that could lead to 20-year prison sentences.The case is scheduled to go to trial in January, 2019.
Activists were disappointed by the ruling.
"We do not agree with the Court's legalistic jujitsu, which, as a result, leaves young victims who are transported across state lines at great peril to this barbaric procedure," head of EndFGMToday Elizabeth Yore said in a press release.
Nagarwala and Attar are just two of eight defendants charged in the landmark FGM case; the other defendants include several mothers who brought their daughters to Nagarwala and Attar for FGM, and Attar’s wife who held girls’ hands during FGM procedures, the Detroit Free Press reported.
All eight defendants and the victims in the case are members of a Shiite Muslim sect based in Gujarat, India, known as the Dawoodi Bohra, which believes in the practice of “khatna.” “Khatna” is a cultural tradition of the Dawoodi Bohra in which young girls undergo FGM to eliminate their “source of sin” — the clitoris — and to suppress sexual desire, Dawoodi Bohra survivors of FGM told the Hindustan Times.
Since 1990, US Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates that the number of girls in the country at risk of FGM has more than tripled. In 2012, more than half a million girls in the US were at risk of being subjected to FGM, according to the agency.
But globally, at least 200 million girls and women — including in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia, which account for about half that figure — have been subjected to FGM, according to UNICEF.
Global Citizen campaigns to ensure that every girl and every woman has the right to decide what to do with her own body and is free from all forms of gender-based violence, including FGM. You can take action here to tell world leaders that #SheDecides for herself.