More than 20 years after Congress passed a law making it illegal, the United States is seeing it’s first federal case involving female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is classified into four categories. The first category only involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris or the clitoral hood. The second category involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. The third involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening by sewing the labia together, and the last category is any and all other harmful procedures, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing, done to the female genitalia. Any version of this procedure results in a myriad of problems, including painful menstruation, painful penetration, and complicated childbirth to name a few. More than 200 million girls and women alive today across at least 30 countries have been subjected to FGM. The procedure is usually performed at some point between birth and adolescence. It is commonly misunderstood as a religious practice. However, with no religious texts requiring FGM, and considering FGM is performed on girls and women of varying religions, it is better described as a cultural practice. The practice, which has zero health benefits and actually causes many severe health problems, aims to reduce a woman’s libido, thus ensuring premarital virginity and marital fidelity. It is often associated with being “feminine”, “modest”, “clean”, and “beautiful”.
Dr. Jumana Nargarwala was a 44-year old, American-born, emergency room doctor at the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan. She was arrested on April 12 and awaiting trial in jail after she was deemed a flight risk and a threat to the community by a federal judge. She has been charged with female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy, and making a false statement to a federal officer. The combination of the charges results in a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Nargarwala is accused of performing genital mutilation on two seven-year-old girls in February at a Detroit clinic owned by another doctor. It is important to note that this doctor, Dr. Attar, and his wife, have also been charged with conspiring to perform the procedure on these two girls. Nargarwala has plead not guilty and stands by her claim that she has never performed FGM on any minor children and was performing a benign religious procedure that involved using a “scraper” to remove membrane from the girls’ genital area, which is then buried in accordance with their religious custom. However, a medical professional that examined the girls cited injuries far worse than what Nargarwala was claiming. The doctor found scarring, a small tear, healing lacerations, and what appeared to be the surgical removal of a portion of the genitalia. In fact, the girls told investigators that after the procedure they could barely walk and were in incredible pain. One girl even screamed out during the procedure. To make matters worse, investigators believe that Nargarwala has been subjecting young girls to FGM since as early as 2005.
In 1990 it was estimated that approximately 180,000 women and girls in the U.S. had undergone or were at risk for FGM. That number has more than tripled. The increase in girls and women at risk is largely due to the rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest. It is so bad, that a Virginia Imam has been caught on camera advocating for FGM in a sermon. He says it is “the honorable thing to do, if needed,” to prevent hypersexuality in young girls.
America is a place where people are free to live according to their conscience and their faith. However, female genital mutilation is not a faith-based procedure, and is in fact a barbaric violation of basic human rights. We must not condone or turn a blind eye to this issue for fear of being labeled as intolerant or discriminatory, for standing up against the mutilation of young girls across the globe is neither.
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