US Law Banning Female Genital Mutilation Declared Unconstitutional
NEW YORK – November 22, 2018
A federal judge in Detroit on Tuesday declared a US law banning female genital mutilation unconstitutional, and also dismissed several charges against two doctors and others in the first US criminal case of its kind.
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Matthew Schneider in Detroit, said the prosecutor’s office would review the decision before deciding whether to appeal. The decision removed the main charges against Jumana Nagarwala, a doctor who performed the procedure on nine girls from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota at another doctor’s clinic in the Detroit suburb of Livonia.
Four of the eight defendants, including three of the four mothers accused of subjecting their daughters to the procedure, were dismissed in the case. The defendants are members of a small Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community. The doctors faced lengthy prison sentences on conspiracy charges.
FGM is a common practice among many northern and southern African countries, but it is banned or criminalized by at least 59 countries and several international treaties. It is considered a human rights violation by the World Health Organization. It typically involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and is used to control the sexuality of women and girls.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.
More than 48,400 women and girls in the state of New York are at risk of or have undergone FGM, estimates the Population Reference Bureau.
And the AHA Foundation — a global activist group fighting for an end to violence against women — says these terrifying and brutal procedures are happening right under our noses.
Anti-FGM advocacy groups Equality Now, WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, and Safe Hands for Girls have previously filed an amicus brief in support of the federal government.
Michigan passed a law to criminalize the practice in 2017 following the start of the case, but the law is not retrospective, and Nagarwala and others cannot be tried for past alleged offences.
Amanda Parker, senior director at the AHA Foundation women’s rights organization, said: “This is outrageous. It’s taken years for whistleblowers, police, FBI and attorneys to work together to bring this to court. Dropping the charge is a real blow to the human rights of women and girls in the United States.”
She said judges regularly prosecute assault and other forms of mutilation at the federal level, but “prosecuting those who cut little girls is not a priority for this court.”
There are an estimated 513,000 women and girls at risk of or who have undergone FGM in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.