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In the first ever arrests of its kind in the United States, two doctors are in custody in the state of Michigan for performing female genital cutting. Federal agents received a tip months ago that one of the doctors was performing the procedure. Two seven-year-old girls at the center of the case have had it done to them, according to child forensic investigators. The case has ignited a fierce debate over the normally taboo subject among the Bohra Indian community.
The Bohra is a small sect of Shia Islam that numbers about 1.5 million across the world. They are a closed, prosperous group with a hierarchical clergy structure. The current leader, Muffaddal Saifuddin has recently said “the procedure must be done, and must be done discreetly.” The young girls aren’t told what is happening, and the cutting usually takes place between the ages of 6 to 8 with older female relatives organising the secretive event, often without the knowledge of male family members. Female genital cutting is said to have been performed for thousands of years among the Bohra.
Supporters of the practice in the Bohra community, both in the US and India, claim that if doctors are performing the procedure, it is safe to continue what they see as a cultural and religious practice. But it raises serious medical ethics questions. They voice concern that the arrests could drive the process even more underground where unqualified operators performing the cut could lead girls to greater harm.
Critics say until the community leader speaks out against cutting it will not stop. The United Nations has called female genital mutilation a human rights violation done without consent that has no medical benefits. It is often done by someone with no medical knowledge in a non-clinical setting increasing the risk of infection and error. The procedure can create lifelong pain and psychological trauma.
According to US government agencies, approximately 500,000 women and girls are at risk of having cutting performed on them in the US, a practice that has been illegal in the US since 1996.
So how is the Bohra community reacting to the arrests, and are they ready to confront this taboo topic?
In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Aarefa Johari @sahiyo2016
Journalist & Co-founder of Sahiyo
Munira Hamza @munira5221
Maryum Saifee @swordy786
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.