Update on the First Female Genital Mutilation Case in the U.S. – AHA Foundation Files Amicus Brief After Defense Challenges Constitutionality of Anti-FGM Law

AHA Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief this week in support of the federal anti-FGM law after defense lawyers challenged the law’s constitutionality. An updated indictment issued by federal authorities brings a harsher sentence and adds three more victims to the case.

United States of America v. Nagarwala, et al (17-20274) 

Eastern District of Michigan United States District Court

On September 24, AHA Foundation filed a Motion for Leave to File an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the U.S. government’s position affirming the constitutionality of the federal law, 18 USC § 116, that criminalized female genital mutilation (FGM) in 1996. In July of this year, attorneys working for defendants Nagarwala and Fakhruddin and Farida Attar in the landmark FGM case submitted a motion to dismiss five counts of the then-latest indictment, asserting that Congress lacked authority to enact the law. AHA Foundation argues that, pursuant to the Commerce Clause and treaty obligations, the federal anti-FGM law is constitutional and Congress had the authority to enact it. Read our amicus brief here.

The updated indictment, brought by the prosecution on September 12th, adds an additional three victims from Illinois. This brings the total to nine victims, born between 2005 and 2010, from three states who are said to have suffered the procedure at the Michigan-based Burhani Medical Clinic since 2015.

These additional victims, along with a new charge submitted by prosecutors, are expected to delay even further the federal trial set for January 2019 in downtown Detroit. The latest indictment accuses Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of conspiring to travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct in the transport of two Minnesota girls across state lines for FGM procedures.

If convicted, the latest charge could send Nagarwala to prison for up to 30 years. Nargawala was originally accused of a similar crime that carried a life sentence, the transport of a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity, but a federal judge dismissed that count in January 2018 on the grounds that it lacked merit.

Up to 100 girls may have been victims of FGM in this case, where Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is charged with performing the FGM procedure in the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, Michigan. This is the first time an FGM case is going to trial and it will be tried under the federal legislation that criminalizes FGM. Judge Bernard A. Friedman is presiding over the case.

AHA Foundation will be following this case closely and will report updates to our supporters as they come. Below is what is currently known about the case:

Victims included:

  •       Minor Victim One, a girl, is a resident of Minnesota and was born in 2010.
  •       Minor Victim Two, a girl, is a resident of Minnesota and was born in 2010.
  •       Minor Victim Three, a girl, is a resident of Michigan and was born in 2008.
  •       Minor Victim Four, a girl, is a resident of Michigan and was born in 2009.
  •       Minor Victim Five, a girl, is a resident of Michigan and was born in 2005.
  •       Minor Victim Six, a girl, is a resident of Michigan and was born in 2008.
  •       Minor Victim Seven, a girl, is a resident of Illinois and was born in 2007.
  •       Minor Victim Eight, a girl, was a resident of Illinois in 2015, and was born in 2008.
  •       Minor Victim Nine, a girl, is a resident of Illinois and was born in 2008.

Individuals charged:

  • Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, the doctor accused of conducting the procedure
  • Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who owned the clinic where these operations were allegedly taking place
  • Farida Attar, the wife of Dr. Attar who is thought to have held the hands of the girls as the procedure was done
  • Tahera Shafiz, thought to have been involved in aiding and abetting the FGM procedure on little girls
  • Farida Arif, mother of one of the girls brought to Dr. Nagarwala
  • Fatema Dahodwala, also a mother who brought her daughter to Dr. Nagarwala for the FGM procedure
  • Haseena Halfal, Minnesotan mother charged with bringing her 7-year-old daughter to Michigan to undergo FGM. Zainab Hariyanawala, Minnesotan mother also charged with bringing her 7-year-old daughter to Michigan to undergo FGM

Status: Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is currently free on a $4.5 million unsecured bond. She and other defendants await a criminal trial, currently set for January of next year, that is suspected to be delayed due to the newest charge and an ongoing grand jury investigation. It has been reported that legal experts suspect that federal authorities are trying to strengthen their case against the constitutional challenge by identifying and including victims from multiple states.  

AHA Foundation will continue to monitor the situation and bring updates as they come.

Key Takeaway: This case proves the need for individual states to have state legislation against FGM. At the time when the little girls were cut, Michigan did not have anti-FGM state legislation, which is needed so that state prosecutors have the tools they need to prosecute this crime. However, the other four states that have been identified as linked to this case, Illinois, Minnesota, and potentially California and New York, all did have anti-FGM state legislation. This points to the possibility that little girls were being trafficked into Michigan to undergo this procedure.

AHA Foundation works to strengthen legislation against FGM and other forms of honor violence. Does your state have anti-FGM legislation? Find out here and join the movement to enact legislation that will help protect girls from genital cutting in the U.S.

Additionally, see thoughts on this case from Representative Dave Trott, who we have been working with on the federal SAFE Act, which would increase the penalty for female genital mutilation, here.

We at the AHA Foundation would like to express our deepest gratitude to Sam Hershey and his colleagues at the law firm of White & Case for their work on the amicus curiae brief referenced in this article.