Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

In this December 2015 photo provided by her, Zehra Patwa poses for a picture at her home in New Haven, Conn. (AP)
Updated 24 April 2017

Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

DETROIT: Zehra Patwa learned only a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcized, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Patwa, 46, doesn’t remember undergoing the procedure, which is also called female genital mutilation or cutting and which has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the US But she doesn’t want to.
“I have no desire to get that memory back. ... Psychologically, it feels like a violation, even though I don’t remember it,” said Patwa, a technology project manager from New Haven, Connecticut, who now campaigns against the centuries-old practice.
The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa’s own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.
Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure on two Minnesota girls that left them with scars and lacerations. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, insists that Nagarwala conducted a benign religious ritual that involved no mutilation.
Prosecutors on Friday charged two other Bohras, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, with conspiracy. Fakhruddin Attar owns the Detroit-area clinic where the alleged procedures were performed in February, and investigators say the couple knew Nagarwala was doing the procedures after business hours.
There are more than a million Bohras in the world, most of whom live in India. No one knows how many there are in the US, but it’s estimated there are about 25,000 and that they have about 20 mosques and gathering places.
Patwa, who is part of the activist group Speak Out on FGM, said that given its clandestine nature, it’s hard to estimate how many people perform female circumcisions in the US But there are a small number in the Bohra community who are known by elders and tend to be clustered around large cities with Bohra mosques, she said.
When many Bohra girls are age 6 to 8, their parents approach — or are approached by — a “secret network” of female elders about getting the girls cut. There is then an informal vetting process to make sure a request is legitimate and not an attempt to expose any activities, Patwa said.
“Everybody knows somebody who has gotten their daughter cut ... but nobody wants to rat out their family members or friends,” she said.
A spokesman for the Syedna, the Bohras’ religious head in Mumbai, India, could not be reached for comment. The two men vying to succeed the Syedna, his half brother and the son of a former Syedna, have different views on female circumcision. The half brother says it is time to end the practice of female circumcision. The former Syedna’s son, whom most Bohras accept as their new leader, says the tradition must continue and notes that Bohra men are also circumcized.
“Men have to do it, and even women have to do it,” Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin said in a speech last year.
The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits but has been performed on roughly 200 million women and girls in 30 countries.
Multiple Islamic scholars and experts say the practice is cultural, not based in religious principles. Those who don’t have their daughters circumcized are subjected to pressure, and those who do believe they are protecting the girls.
Although Patwa and others describe it as a widespread practice, it’s not universally performed among the Bohra. Sahiyo, a Mumbai-based organization that campaigns against the procedure, estimates that about 80 percent of girls within the community have had it done.
She said she attends a Bohra mosque near Boston, which she describes as a welcoming and largely educated and tolerant congregation, but not one in which the procedure they call “khatna” is openly discussed.
“Part of my campaigning is always, ‘We have a problem within our community. We can only deal with it as a community,” she said. “We can expose it, but other people aren’t going to swoop in and help us.’“
Patwa said many Bohra mosques, including hers, have sent letters to members encouraging them not to engage in khatna because it could be considered illegal. But she said some critics don’t see this as a serious attempt by mosques to end the practice, but rather as legal cover.
Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president and CEO of Michigan Urgent Care and a board member of the Michigan State Medical Society, said he was a Bohra until about five years ago. He has shared his concerns about the procedure through a resolution presented to the state medical group, which adopted a policy several years ago labeling it unethical for doctors to perform.
Jiwajee Bhai Bootwala belongs to the Minneapolis-area Bohra community, which he said consists of about 25 to 30 families. He said he doesn’t know of anyone involved in the practice and didn’t know about the families who went to Michigan, or if they even belong to his group. Still, he said, the news will spoil his community’s image.
“The law for the country is part of your faith,” he said. “So we would never do something against the laws of the country.”


As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

Updated 43 min 33 sec ago

As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

  • Third death reported in Wuhan, where outbreak started
  • Total number of cases more than triples to 221

BEIJING: An outbreak of a new coronavirus has spread to more Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, authorities said on Monday, and a fourth case has been reported beyond China’s borders.
China’s National Health Commission confirmed that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can pass from person-to-person, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was a top priority as the number of patients more than tripled and a third person died.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be traveling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered.
“Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. There is more to come from this outbreak,” said Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6 p.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Monday, state television reported, 198 of which were in Wuhan.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” President Xi was quoted as saying by state television.
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in Guangdong province were due to human-to-human transmission, Xinhua said. Some medical staff have been infected, it added, but gave no number.

BEYOND BORDERS
South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had traveled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.
Last week, two cases were reported in Thailand and one in Japan. All three involved people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.
A report by London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by Jan. 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.
“This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person to person transmission,” Farrar said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts.
The Geneva-based UN agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.
China’s state council reiterated the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible, state television said on Monday.
Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged Monday because of the outbreak.
“Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,” said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo
The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS. Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced it to reveal the epidemic.
“Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic,” the editorial said.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, Roxanne Liu, Sophie Yu, Judy Hua and Colin Qian and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Joyce Lee in Seoul, Kate Kelland in London, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)