US judge drops doctor genital mutilation charges

A US judge has dropped federal female genital mutilation charges filed against a Michigan doctor, ruling that Congress overstepped its authority in prohibiting a practice best left to state courts.

In what was hailed a landmark case, Jumana Nagarwala was charged in April 2017 with performing the widely condemned practice on nine girls at a clinic in Livonia, Michigan over a span of 12 years.

But in a decision filed Tuesday, Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Congress had “overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM.”

Instead the practice should be considered a “‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with longstanding tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress,” he wrote.

Congress passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform genital mutilation or cutting on any girl younger than 18.

Twenty-seven US states also have anti-FGM legislation, including Michigan, while 23 states have yet to criminalise the practice.

“As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault,” wrote Friedman.

The judge’s ruling saw charges of conspiring to commit and committing FGM dropped, as well as counts of aiding and abetting others to do so.

Nagarwala still faces other conspiracy charges.

Her lawyer, Shannon Smith, was quoted by CNN as saying that her client was “ecstatic” over the decision, but “nervous because she still faces other charges in federal court.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 513,000 women and girls in the United States in 2012 were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation.

The statistic was three times higher than one based on 1990 data, due to increased immigration from countries where genital mutilation is practiced.

Globally, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have suffered some form of FGM across 30 countries, according to the United Nations.

While concentrated in Africa, it is common in some communities in Asia, Arab states and Latin America. Half of those cut live in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia, according to the UN.