WeSpeakOut disappointed by US Government's stand on anti-FGM law

WeSpeakOut is extremely disappointed to hear that the US Government will not, as previously stated, appeal the court decision in the  United States v. Jumana Nagarwala et al. case and defend the federal anti-FGM law so that women and girls who may be at risk of FGM can feel protected.

To review, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, as well as another physician and several other individuals, all from the Bohra community, were charged with Female Genital Mutilation under the federal FGM law in April, 2017. Shortly afterwards, Michigan passed a state law on FGM but the defendants could not be charged under these new state laws. Nagarwala et al were initially found guilty of the federal charges. Then the defense attorneys argued that the federal FGM law that had been passed in 1996, was unconstitutional and that Congress did not have the appropriate authority to pass the law at the time.

Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan declared that FGM is a local criminal activity that should be tried under state laws and that the Federal Government had no jurisdiction to charge these individuals and therefore, agreed with the defense attorneys that the law was unconstitutional.

US Department of Justice (US DOJ) attorneys were planning an appeal and many activists and law experts believed that this would be a straightforward process.

Then on April 11, 2019, we learned that the US Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, sent a letter to Congress stating that the US DOJ will not defend the federal FGM law in the Nagarwala case as they believed the law to be weak so she and the other people involved have been cleared of all FGM charges despite substantial evidence to support the case.

However, Nagarwala et al are still charged with other federal crimes related to "conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct" and obstruction. Similarly to how mafia bosses have been indicted for tax evasion rather than murder, prosecutors are working to stop Nagarwala et al’s FGM practice by any means necessary and these remaining 2 charges do just that.

The Department of Justice under the Trump administration is basically washing its hands of this law and leaving countless women and girls with doubts about whether they are protected despite stating that this is “an especially heinous act” and “the Department therefore condemns this practice in the strongest possible terms”.

The Department of Justice is shunting the responsibility back to Congress to amend the law or pass a new law that would hold with the Constitution. The work of amending the law has been ongoing but now, it is of paramount importance to clarify the law so that women and girls know they are protected.

The main takeaway here is that FGM, which includes the definition of Khafz as practiced in the Bohra community, remains illegal in the US, and practitioners who believe they can continue without impunity are sorely mistaken.

If anyone has any information about those practicing FGM/Khafz in the United States, please call the FBI hotline at (800) CALL-FBI or visit www.FBI.gov/FGM.  You may report activity anonymously.


The WeSpeakOut Team

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