Two Muslim doctors and a third person have been indicted on female genital mutilation charges (FGM) after being accused of targeting young girls for years to carry out the "barbaric and illegal ritual" in a Detroit-area clinic.
ABC News reports that on Wednesday, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and Attar's wife, Farida, were charged with female genital mutilation, conspiracy, lying to investigators, and other crimes. If convicted, all three face life in prison. Prosecutors said that when the three medical professionals were discovered, they lied, deleted evidence and tried to hush others in their religious community to keep their crime a secret.
As reported, Nagarwala and the Attars, who are part of a Gujarati-speaking Muslim community in Michigan, are accused of participating in the genital cuttings of the two 7-year-old girls who came to Michigan in February with their mothers, thinking it was for a "special girls' weekend."
After mutilating the young girls during after hours at the clinic, Nagarwala reportedly instructed at least one member of her community to lie if anyone asked questions. The Livonia clinic, where Nagarwala allegedly carried out the mutilations, was owned by Attar, and Farida is said to have assisted Nagarwala during the actual cutting.
Prosecutors say they believe there are many other victims, including children in Michigan, and the three defendants are part of a much larger ring that ran from 2005 until this year.
According to the indictment, Nagawala told federal agents that "she has never been present" for female genital mutilation - or FGM - on "any minor children" and that she has "no knowledge" of it ever being performed.
"Nagarwala then and there well knew she had performed FGM procedures on numerous minor girls," the indictment states.
While the girls' parents have not been charged, Minnesota authorities removed both girls from their homes, though one of them has been returned to her parents. According to reports, this is the first time anyone in the United States has been charged with FGM, which has been a felony since 1996.
"This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason: to control them as women. FGM will not be tolerated in the United States," said Dan Lemisch, the acting U.S. attorney in Detroit.
The World Health Organization notes that FGM is an illegal practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons.
The ritual, which can cause severe bleeding, infections, as well as complications in childbirth, is carried out for various reasons, such as the belief that the procedure reduces a woman's libido and decreases the risk of extramarital sexual affairs, and is linked to African non-Christian religions and traditions.
UNICEF data reveals that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. FGM is mostly carried out on girls and infants below the age of 15 - often by their own mothers - and is considered a violation of human rights.
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2012 found that roughly 513,000 women and girls in the US were at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation, which was more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 data.