By Jacey Fortin from The New York Times
A Michigan doctor has been accused of performing genital cutting on two 7-year-old girls at a medical clinic, in a case that federal officials believe to be the first prosecution under a law banning the brutal practice.
The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested on Wednesday on charges that she performed the genital cutting at an unnamed medical clinic in Livonia, Mich.; transported minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and lied to federal agents.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday, Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedure on two girls from Minnesota who traveled to the clinic with their parents in February. The complaint also said that “multiple” other girls, including some from Michigan, may have been victimized between 2005 and 2007.
One of the girls told investigators that she thought she and the other girl had gone to the doctor because “our tummies hurt.” The other said the cutting procedure was so painful that she screamed and could barely walk afterward. She drew a picture of the room where the procedures were allegedly carried out, marking an “X” on the spot where she said she had bled on the examination table, according to the complaint.
“Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Kenneth A. Blanco, an acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement on Thursday. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”
Dr. Nagarwala appeared in court on Thursday and was ordered held in jail until another hearing on Monday. The doctor’s lawyer, Shannon M. Smith, could not be reached by phone for comment on Thursday. According to the complaint, Dr. Nagarwala said she had never performed genital cutting on any children.
Dr. Nagarwala, who practices emergency medicine at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has been placed on administrative leave, said David Olejarz, a spokesman for the Henry Ford Health System.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility,” he said in an email. “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice.”
Female genital cutting involves removing parts of the genitalia. The World Health Organization has documented the practice in 30 countries, most of them in Africa. The procedure, which is illegal in the United States, is typically performed on girls before they reach puberty and can lead to infections, childbirth complications or pain during urination or menstruation.
The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of genital cutting. A study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a half million women and girls were affected by, or at risk of, genital cutting in the United States in 2012.
Genital cutting has been illegal in the United States since 1996, but that law was amended in 2013 to outlaw what is sometimes referred to as “vacation cutting,” or transporting a girl overseas to carry out the procedure.
The Michigan case is significant because it can help to raise awareness of an issue that often flies under the radar, said Shelby Quast of Equality Now, an international women’s rights advocacy organization.