By Sandra Ali for Click On Detroit
At least 500,000 woman in the United States have undergone genital mutilation or are at risk of having it done in the future, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Federal officials said it’s happening to girls as young as 7 years old in Metro Detroit.
Nobody answered the door when Local 4 visited Jumana Nagarwala’s Northville home. The 44-year-old doctor is facing federal charges for allegedly performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls.
READ: What is female genital mutilation?
From the outside, the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia looks like a regular clinic, but what was allegedly happening inside is at the center of the investigation.
The case centers around the taboo ritual of FGM, a tradition with deep religious roots that’s been happening for decades. It’s illegal, and for the most part outlawed around the world, except for in a handful of countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, where it still happens today.
“Ninety-eight percent of woman in Sudan are circumcised, 96 percent in Somalia and 94 percent in Ethiopia,” said Moyna Uddin, who has been researching and writing about FGM for the past 20 years.
In a first-of-its-kind federal prosecution, authorities charged three people who worked at the Burhani Medical Clinic for their alleged roles in the genital cuttings of two 7-year-old girls.
Nagarwala was arrested on April 12 for allegedly performing the procedures. On April 21, Dr. Fakruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, were arrested for allegedly assisting Nagarwala and letting her use the clinic.
Fakruddin Attar allegedly let Nagarwala use his clinic to perform the procedures, and his wife allegedly held the girls’ hands to try to comfort them as the procedures were happening.
Nagarwala’s neighbors wouldn’t talk on camera, but several people who work near the clinic said they saw people coming and going at all hours of the night, well after the medical office was supposed to be closed.
According to court documents, Nagarwala and the Attars belong to a small Indian community of Muslims called the Dawoodi Bohra. Members of the Dawoodi Bohra believe FGM is a social rite of passage and a secret ritual when a girl is transformed into a woman. Experts said it’s done by village elders to curb a woman’s sexuality.
In this case, investigators believe the two young girls came to Michigan with their mothers, thinking they were on a “special girls’ trip.” They ended up at the medical clinic, getting their genitals cut, officials said.
Seydi Sarr grew up in a village in Senegal and said the practice has been outlawed there since the 1980s. She said she remembers a time before that when young girls were told to keep the ritual a secret.
“People are very attached to their identities, their culture, their practices,” Sarr said. “(It’s) so complicated and painful to talk about.”
The Attars are expected in federal court on Wednesday.
If convicted, Nagarwala could get life in prison. Federal officials said there are likely more victims out there.