As many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at a Livonia, Michigan clinic as part of a religious rite of passage, a federal prosecutor alleged on Wednesday during a hearing for a historic female genital mutilation (FGM) case.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala subjected as many as 100 girls to the practice. Part of these 100 are two Minnesota girls, whom Nagarwala allegedly performed the procedure on in February, and were told to keep the procedure secret, the Detroit Free Press reported. Prosecutors have so far identified eight victims total.
Woodward based her estimation on the accounts of Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who told authorities he allowed Nagarwala to use his clinic to perform the procedures and estimated that Nagarwala used his clinic up to six times a year to “treat children for genital rashes.”
“Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. Nagarwala,” Woodward said. “The Minnesota victims were not the first victims.”
Attar’s wife, Farida Attar, is also implicated in the case for holding the girls’ hands to calm them during the cutting. Nagarwala and Dr. Attar are both charged with transportation of an individual with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and face up to life in prison. Farida faces up to 20 years for her alleged role in the cutting.
The Attars’ lawyer, Mary Chartier, argues that the couple didn’t engage in a criminal act, and that the controversial procedure, which is recognized by the World Health Organization as a human rights violation, is a protected religious rite. Nagarwala and the Attars belong to a small Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra.
Chartier also alleged that no cutting was involved, but instead a “scraping of genital membrane.” However, a juvenile protection petition filed on the behalf of the Minnesota girls in April cited a surgical removal of a portion of the girls’ genitalia, healing lacerations, a small tear, and scarring.
“I think the government has overstated so many aspects of this case and this is one more example of overreaching,” Chartier said after the hearing.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted a bond to the Attars on the condition that they surrender their passports, not speak to anyone outside of family and lawyers, and be on house arrest with GPS tethers, only to leave their home for pre-approved lawyers and doctor’s visits. The state is also in the process of revoking the Attars’ parenting rights, and they’re not allowed to live with their minor daughter.
The Attars’ lawyers will surrender their clients’ passports on Thursday, allowing them to be released from jail. Nagarwala remains in jail pending the outcome of the trial, set for Oct. 10.