A Michigan doctor has been accused of performing female genital mutilation surgery on multiple girls, some as young as six years old.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly performing the procedure on multiple young girls over the past 12 years. Nagarwala, an emergency room clinic physician at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, allegedly carried out the surgeries at a clinic in a nearby suburb, prosecutors said. Nagarwala’s attorney did not immediately respond to request for comment.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility. We would never support or condone anything related to this practice,” hospital spokesperson David Olejarz told The Daily Beast in a statement. Olejarz confirmed that Nagarwala has been placed on administrative leave.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s investigations unit received a tip that Nagarwala was performing the surgeries at a clinic in Livonia, about a 20-minute drive from the hospital where she works. Nagarwala’s case is believed to be the first under the 1996 federal law that criminalizes FGM.
FGM, also known as female circumcision, is a practice that intentionally alters or removes the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The practice “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes,” according to the World Health Organization, and is a “violation of the rights of girls and women.” Despite prevention efforts, the practice endures in some parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, especially in rural communities.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that, as of 2012, more than 500,000 women and girls in the United States have already undergone the procedure or are at risk of being subjected to it in the future. That number is more than triple the agency’s 1990 estimate.
According to the criminal complaint, at least two seven-year-old girls were allegedly brought to Nagarwala’s clinic from out of state to undergo to the procedure. One of the alleged victims told investigators that she and another girl were brought to Detroit for a “special” girls’ trip and that they had to go to the doctors because their “tummies hurt.”
The first girl told investigators that she took off her pants and underwear and laid on an examining table, where she was “pinched” by Nagarwala on the “place [where] she goes pee.”
The second girl described a similar situation, telling investigators that she went to a doctor’s office in Detroit, took off her pants and underwear, and was placed on an operating table where she “got a shot” on her upper right thigh. After the procedure, she said, she felt pain down to her ankle and could barely walk, but Nagarwala allegedly told her she was fine.
Both girls’ parents told them they couldn’t tell anyone about the procedure. Both identified an unmarked photo of Nagarwala and said she was the doctor who they met in Detroit.
Doctors in Minnesota examined both of the girls and determined that their genitals were “not normal in appearance.” Both girls had indications of tears, scar tissue, or lacerations.
According to the criminal complaint, the same girl who reported difficulty walking after the procedure told investigators she left one of her winter gloves in Nagarwala’s office. On April 10, FBI agents found a child’s glove in the clinic with the victim’s name written on it. The girl’s parents later confirmed to investigators that they took their daughter to Nagarwala’s clinic for a “‘cleansing’ of extra skin.”
Nagarwala initially denied performing the procedures on those two girls or any other children and told investigators she is aware FGM is illegal in the U.S., according to the criminal complaint. She is being charged with female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and making a false statement to a federal officer. The FGM charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.
“According to the complaint, despite her oath to care for her patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement.