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Law which bans female genital mutilation ruled as unconstitutional by US federal judge

Several charges against doctor accused of performing procedure dropped in Michigan case

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Wednesday 21 November 2018 17:37 GMT
A federal judge in Michigan has ruled the law which makes female genital mutilation a crime is unconstitutional.
A federal judge in Michigan has ruled the law which makes female genital mutilation a crime is unconstitutional. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The US law banning female genital mutilation has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Judge Bernard Friedman dropped almost all charges against a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on several underage age girls.

The judge wrote in the decision: "Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit [female genital mutilation]” and said it was a “local criminal activity" for states to figure out.

“As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault...FGM is not part of a larger market and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The commerce clause does not permit Congress to regulate a crime of this nature,” Mr Friedman wrote.

Dr Jumana Nagarwala was accused of performing the procedure, which involves the partial or full removal of the clitoris, on nine girls.

The girls are from Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota and the procedures allegedly took place at a fellow doctor’s office in a Detroit suburb.

FGM victim and Dahlia Project founder on the culture of the practice within family groups

FGM is a custom performed on girls from Dr Nagarwala's Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra. The girls were all between the age of eight and 13 at the time.

Four of the eight defendants were dismissed from the case, including three of the four mothers accused of subjecting their daughters to FGM.

While six of the eight charges against Dr Jumana Nagarwala were dropped, she still faces counts of conspiring to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding for allegedly telling others not to talk about what had been done.

Her lawyer Shannon Smith called the judge’s decision “a well-reasoned opinion and we are happy to see that his conclusion about the constitutionality of the law matched our analysis as well. My client is ecstatic, but she's still nervous because she still faces other charges in federal court."

Dr Nagarwala has pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges.

The United Nations Population Fund estimates approximately 200 million girls around the world have undergone the painful, often traumatic procedure.

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Some of the complications of female circumcision include severe pain and bleeding, urinary problems, cysts, and problems later in life with painful intercourse. It can also cause complications in giving birth, and even lead to a higher risk of infant deaths.

Though it is performed for a variety of social, cultural, religious, and hygiene reasons around the world it has been banned by 44 countries.

The World Health Organisation considers the practice a human rights violation.

A trial date has been set for 29 April 2019 and the US government lawyers are expected to appeal Judge Friedman’s decision.

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