Suspect Zahra Badri, a resident of Houston originally from the United Kingdom, has been accused of knowingly transporting a minor for the purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM) sometime in 2016.
Practiced in at least 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East but also worldwide in some Islamic sects, FGM involves partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Also sometimes referred to as female circumcision or cutting, there are no health benefits to women and girls, and FGM has been proven to cause medical and psychological problems in victims.
“Female genital mutilation is child abuse,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. “The long-term damage, both physically and physiologically, is well documented. Unnecessary medical procedures on children will not be tolerated.”
FGM has been outlawed in the United States since 1996, although in 2018 a federal judge in Michigan dismissed pending charges against a Detroit doctor on the grounds that the law was unconstitutional and that the practice is a “local criminal activity.” The Department of Justice did not appeal the ruling, however earlier this month President Trump signed into law legislation introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) designed to strengthen prosecution and penalty for practitioners domestically.
All but 11 states have enacted legislation addressing FGM with varying degrees of strength. In Texas, it is a state jail felony to perform or knowingly transport a minor for the practice. Parents who consent to FGM for girls under age 18 may also be prosecuted, and statute specifies that cultural or religious norms are not a valid defense to prosecution.
Issues surrounding surgical and medical alterations to underage children will likely be discussed in the 2021 Texas legislative session, as lawmakers debate a proposal from Rep. Steve Toth (R-Spring) that clarifies child abuse definitions to include the removal of healthy tissue, the prescription of puberty-blocking hormones, and sterilization surgeries if the procedures aim to “change or affirm a child’s perception of the child’s sex, if that perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex as determined by the child’s sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous hormone profiles.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women with currently more than 200 million living victims worldwide. The organization has been developing strategies to eliminate the practice through educational and medical efforts and advocating for legislation in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The FBI’s Houston Field Office conducted the investigation with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC).
Following the indictment, FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner said in a statement, “It is rare this type of crime is brought to the attention of law enforcement.”
“We want the American people to know it is the FBI’s responsibility to investigate allegations of Human Rights violations, like female genital mutilation. This is an example of our commitment to protect Human Rights.”
Established in 2009, the HRVWCC furthers the government’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers.
“The brutal practice of female genital mutilation not only subjects victims to the immediate trauma of the violent act, but also often condemns them to suffer a lifetime of physical and psychological harms,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General David P. Burns of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“This indictment represents the first time the Department has brought charges against a defendant for transporting a child outside U.S. borders to facilitate this abhorrent form of gender-based violence and demonstrates that we will not rest in pursuing and holding to account those who engage in this cruelty.”
According to the DOJ, Badri is set to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge in the near future.