Detroit-area doctor charged with genital mutilation on girls

CBS/AP

DETROIT - A Michigan doctor was charged Thursday with performing genital mutilation on two young girls who traveled to suburban Detroit from Minnesota with their mothers.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested after the 7-year-olds identified her as the person who performed procedures on them in February at a clinic in Livonia, according to the FBI.

Nagarwala heard the allegations during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court and was returned to jail to await another hearing Monday. Federal prosecutors want to keep her locked up without bond.

Defense attorney Shannon Smith declined to comment outside court. In a court filing, the FBI said many more girls have told investigators that Nagarwala performed procedures on their genitals.

Female genital mutilation of minors is illegal in the U.S. unless there’s a legitimate health reason. The FBI said Nagarwala is a member of a cultural community that believes in the practice but that she denied performing it when interviewed by agents.

She is charged with genital mutilation, making false statements and other crimes.

A winter glove belonging to one of the 7-year-old girls was found at the Livonia clinic. The parents of that child told investigators they took her to Michigan to see Nagarwala “for a ‘cleansing’ of extra skin,” FBI agent Kevin Swanson said.

CBS Detroit reports that one alleged victim, a 7-year-old Minnesota resident, told an FBI agent she was bought by her parents to Detroit with another child for what she was told was a “special girls trip.” Once she arrived, she was told she and the other girl had to go to the clinic “because our tummies hurt,” and that the procedure preformed by the doctor would “get the germs out.” The girl said she was told not to tell anyone about it. 

According to the station, this is believed to be the first case brought under federal law 18 U.S.C. 116, which criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM), which typically involves the surgical removal of a female’s clitoris or labia, sometimes for religious or cultural reasons.    

The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits. Yet it has been performed on more than 200 million women and girls in 30 countries, according to the group.

“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children,” WHO says on its website.

Nagarwala, a 1998 graduate of Johns Hopkins medical school in Baltimore, has been placed on leave at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where she is an emergency room doctor.

“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility. We would never support or condone anything related to this practice,” hospital spokesman David Olejarz said.