A Michigan doctor has become the first to be charged under federal law for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on several girls, ranging from 6 to 8 years old, officials said Thursday.
A federal complaint lodged against emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala alleges the doctor was performing the procedure, where part or all of the female genitalia is removed, on numerous girls out of a medical office in Livonia, Michigan.
Nagarwala is charged with female genital mutilation, a five-year felony, and transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, a 10-year felony, according to the complaint.
This is believed to be the first case brought under a law passed in 1996 and amended in 2012, which criminalizes female genital mutilation, according to the Department of Justice.
“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 Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch 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.
According to the complaint, federal officials launched an investigation after being tipped off that Nagarwala performed the procedure on two 7-year-old girls who were brought by their families from Minnesota for the procedure.
Phone records and surveillance tapes linked the families of the girls to Nagarwala, and when questioned the girls’ parents admitted to law enforcement that they traveled to see the doctor for "extra cleansing of skin."
A medical examination on the girls showed abnormal genitalia, and one of the girls said “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and she is not supposed to talk about it,” the complaint alleges.
Further investigation found other children in Michigan were also seen by Nagarwala from 2005 to 2007, according to the complaint. Some of the parents of those children have admitted to having the procedure done by the Michigan doctor.
Nagarwala, who couldn't be reached for comment, allegedly told investigators she was "aware the procedure was illegal" but denied ever performing them.
“The allegations against the defendant in this investigation are made even more deplorable, given the defendant’s position as a trusted medical professional in the community,” said Special Agent in Charge Francis in a statement.
Nagarwala is listed on staff at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit Michigan, but the hospital said the physician was on “administrative leave” in a statement on Thursday.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility. We would never support or condone anything related to this practice,” said David Olejarz, a hospital spokesman.
Female genital mutation is performed to make a girl more acceptable in certain communities and is thought to increase her eligibility for marriage by ensuring her virginity in many cultures, according to human rights organization Equality Now.
An estimated 200 million women and girls have been subjected to the procedure, according to the World Health Organization. The practice is more prevalent in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but has picked up momentum in the United States.
“Approximately 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk for [genital mutilation of circumcision] or its consequences in 2012 which was more than three times higher than the earlier estimate, based on 1990 data,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"This is a form of child abuse," said Shelby Quast, director of Equality Now’s Americas Office. “We are encouraged seeing a doctor charged with FGM, because this will have a big impact on others who are performing this illegal act," she said.
"This sends a message to other doctors that if you violate the law, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted."