It is with great sadness and disappointment that Sahiyo responds to the recent judgement in the Michigan case. Female genital cutting (FGC) is recognized internationally, and specifically by the U.S. Government as a violation of human rights. Judge Friedman’s decision to throw out this case, which is the nation’s first FGC case, highlights a failure to protect girls in the United States from this harmful practice, and a failure to truly understand the extent and pervasiveness of FGC within this country. (See the Amicus Brief, which is informed by survivors of the same community as the girls in this case, and provides details on these aspects of FGC for the judge).
This judgment has been met by much criticism already, with a call from The US End FGM/C Network for more training across all branches of government, including judicial training that includes: what FGM/C is, how it is carried out, and its life-long impact on women and girls.
Sahiyo believes we cannot allow harmful practices such as FGC to continue. Girls’ rights cannot go unprotected due to legal technicalities and decisions made by those who do not, or refuse to, understand the realities of gender-based violence.
We must all work together to protect ALL girls from this harm and we call on the Department of Justice to appeal this decision.
Background on the case
On April 13, 2017, Detroit emergency room doctor Jumana Nargarwala was arrested and charged with performing FGC on minor girls in the United States. This was the first time someone was brought up on charges under 18 U.S.C. 116, which criminalizes FGC. According to the U.S. Federal complaint, Dr. Nagarwala performed FGC on 6 to 8 year old girls out of a medical office in Livonia, Michigan. Some of these girls’ families reportedly traveled inter-state to have the doctor perform FGC.
On November 20, 2018, Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the US Federal Law banning Female Genital Cutting was unconstitutional based on a technicality. With this ruling, the judge dismissed key charges of FGC against two Michigan doctors and six other people accused of practicing genital cutting on several minor girls.
The ruling was determined by Judge Friedman’s stance that the crime of FGC should be regulated by individual states. However, the US does not actually have laws against FGC in every single state. At the time, only 27 out of 50 states had a state law banning FGC. As of October 2021, there are now 40 states with a state law. There is a state law in Michigan banning FGC, but the law only came into effect in 2017 after the federal case involving Dr. Nagarwala and Dr. Attar came to light. The doctors cannot be prosecuted retrospectively under this Michigan state law.
After Judge Friedman’s verdict in 2018, the Department of Justice failed to appeal Judge Friedman’s decisions in 2019. As a result, Congress filed a motion to appeal the decision, but the motion was denied. In 2020, these events led Congress to unanimously amend and strengthen the Federal FGC law, in order to withstand future challenges, while firmly stating its disagreement with Judge Freidman’s interpretation of the law. In January of 2021, Congress passed the H.R. 6100-STOP FGM Act. (To learn more about the history of this court case and legislation in the U.S., read CoP Law & FGM – Legislation in North America.)
However, the combination of Judge Friedman’s recent decision in September 2021 dismissing the remaining charges against Doctor Nargarwala (and calling the prosecution ‘vindictive’ for seeking new charges), with the Department of Justice’s original decision in 2019 to not appeal his decision, underscores how protecting girls from violence was not central to the case.