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Federal prosecutors said it was the first of its kind -- a female genital mutilation case that has scandalized a religious community.
As reports spread, however, it revealed a deeply disturbing question for the nation: why has it taken so long to take action against the practice? The principal defendant, an Indian American doctor, was arrested five months ago, and two mothers have now been indicted in Minnesota for submitting their seven-year-old daughters for the procedure.
But what's worse, female genital mutilation apparently has been going on in the United States for generations. What on earth is wrong with this picture?
The Dawoodi Bohras, a Shiite branch of Islam, is based in India. It has an estimated 1.2 million followers around the world, including a thriving community in the United States.
According to reports, the religious adherents submit to the procedure usually when girls are between birth and age 15. Parts of their genitals are removed in an attempt to curb sexuality and make sex less enjoyable.
Tasneem Raja, writing for Mother Jones, said it happened to her. "As little girls, nearly all my female Bohra friends and I underwent khatna, the sect's term for this practice," she reported.
Raja said some bled and ached for days. The impact was permanent for all of them.
According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation has afflicted between 100 and 140 million girls and women around the world. The organization estimates three million girls are at risk of being subjected to the practice each year.
"Communities that practice female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing with it," the organization reported. "Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women."
It has been banned in the United States since 1996. We'll be watching the widely publicized case in Minnesota as it develops.
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