A Michigan doctor is being charged in the nation's first ever prosecution under a 1996 federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation. Allegedly, the doctor performed the procedures on girls as young as 6 and 8 years old, and may have even had parental consent. While the charges filed only relate to two minors specifically, the US Attorney's Office is hoping that others will come forward.
The practice of female genital mutilation is also called female circumcision or female genital cutting, and is done in various cultures across the globe for varying dogmatic reasons, despite the fact that international treaties make the practice illegal. In the United States, it is a serious felony that carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
Culture Versus Law
While the United States is well regarded internationally as a place where a majority of the people are accepting of different faiths, cultures, and traditions, some cultural practices simply cannot co-exist with US law. The practice of FGM, like honor killings or forced arranged child marriages, are not tolerated under any circumstances as these are viewed as violations of an individual's rights.
While some individuals may be able to assert a culture-based defense to criminal charges, these defenses may not provide a full reprieve from criminal or civil liability. For the doctor being charged in this prosecution, a cultural defense will likely be insufficient to avoid liability given that he is a licensed medical professional, and as such, held to a higher standard under law. Additionally, the doctor is likely to face censure from the state medical licensing board, and is even likely to face malpractice or medical battery civil claims.
FGM and Immigration Asylum
While the Michigan doctor may be facing the first criminal prosecution in the country for performing FGM, the immigration courts have granted asylum petitions based on the dangers of FGM. In many cultures, individuals who oppose the practice, or attempt to prevent their children from being subjected to it, can face severe retaliation, beatings, and even murder.