A Michigan emergency room doctor has been charged with performing female genital mutilation on multiple girls of about the age of seven.
The Department of Justice says it believes this is the first case brought under a federal law that criminalizes the practice, which is widely condemned as both harmful to the physical and mental health of women and girls and a violation of their human rights.
"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," Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. attorney for 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."
Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was also charged with "transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity" — a reference to FGM — and making false statements to a federal officer.
The criminal complaint says federal agents documented that two girls were transported by two women across state lines to a medical clinic in Livonia, Mich. Documents show Nagarwala is not employed at this clinic nor is there any record of her billings there.
The children were told it was a "'special' girls trip," according to court documents. The first victim told federal agents that she underwent a procedure "to get the germs out" of her, and she identified Nagarwala in a photograph as the doctor who performed the operation. A medical examination performed under a search warrant found that her "labia minora has been altered or removed, and her clitoral hood is also abnormal in appearance."
There are multiple types of FGM, including altering or removing the clitoris, labia minora and/or majora. Rights groups condemn it as an attempt to control the sexuality of women — which is also how many of its proponents justify it.
The second victim who described her ordeal in the complaint said she screamed as Nagarwala gave her a "shot" that "hurt really badly." The girl said she could "barely walk" after the procedure, and that her parents "told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it."
FGM is practiced in dozens of countries, most commonly in Africa, but also in parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America. It is not restricted to members of a single faith; according to the U.N.'s Population Fund, it is practiced by some Muslim groups, "some Christians, Ethiopian Jews, and followers of certain traditional African religions." That's why the U.N. views it as a cultural practice, rather than a religious one.
Local Child Protective Services personnel working with investigators then spoke with "multiple minor girls" who said Nagarwala had operated on their genitals.
Nagarwala told a federal officer that she "had never performed FGM on any minor children" and that "she was not involved in any FGM procedures," court documents state. Her lawyer, Shannon Smith, declined to comment to NPR.
Nagarwala made an initial appearance Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, and remained temporarily detained ahead of a hearing on Monday.
The New York Times reports that she has been placed on administrative leave from Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, according to David Olejarz, a spokesman for the Henry Ford Health System.