Detroit, Mich., May 25, 2017 / 02:02 am
A U.S. federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation will be challenged for the first time in a case in Detroit, where lawyers plan to cite religious freedom as a defense of the practice.
In the case, two physicians and one of their wives are charged with subjecting young girls to genital cutting. The three adults are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian-Muslim sect located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), or the cutting or removal of a female’s clitoris and labia, has officially been illegal in the United States since 1997, under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.
Until modern times, the cutting or removal of female genitalia was considered a “cure” for various ills - hysteria, excessive sexual desire, lesbianism, etc. and was covered by some insurance providers well into the 1970s.
Now, FGM is widely understood by the United Nations and numerous other international human rights groups as a “harmful traditional practice”. The procedure has no health benefits for women, multiple health risks, and is considered a human rights violation.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the defense “maintains that the doctors weren't engaged in any actual cutting — just a scraping of the genitalia — and that the three defendants are being persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn't understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.”
Court documents state that the two Minnesota girls in the case had scarring and abnormalities on their clitorises and labia minora as a result of the procedure.
"According to some members of the community who have spoken out against the practice, the purpose of this cutting is to suppress female sexuality in an attempt to reduce sexual pleasure and promiscuity," a Homeland Security Investigations special agent wrote in an April 20 court filing, according to the Detroit Free Press.