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Activists Call For Investigation Into Case Of Female Genital Mutilation, Saying It Would Be A First For Russia

UNICEF estimates that some 200 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation in 31 countries around the world.

The girl screamed and struggled but was held down by medical staff and her stepmother when female genital mutilation was performed on her at a medical clinic in June 2019 in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, a region in Russia's North Caucasus.

Her mother filed criminal charges and the pediatric gynecologist who performed the procedure is on trial. Now, activists have petitioned for a fuller probe into the case by the Investigative Committee, which lawyers say would be a first in Russia.

"Female circumcision is crippling and has long-term negative consequences for a woman's psychological, sexual, and reproductive health," said Tatyana Savvina, a lawyer with the NGO Pravovaya Initsiativa (Legal Initiative), using a different term for the procedure. "This is a form of gender-based violence."

Savvina told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on May 18 that the local branch of the Investigative Committee was looking into the case involving the procedure performed at the Aibolit clinic in Magas.

Tatyana Savvina (file photo)
Tatyana Savvina (file photo)

Activists want the committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, to open a criminal probe into Aibolit on suspicion of crimes including sexual abuse and damaging the health of a minor.

The Investigative Committee has not issued any public statements on the request to open a criminal probe.

A pediatric gynecologist at the clinic, Izanya Nalgiyeva, is on trial after allegedly performing the procedure without the written consent of the girl's parents. The trial, which began in December 2019, has been suspended because of lockdown restrictions in Russia due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is not banned in Russia and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has become more common in recent years in mostly Muslim regions of the North Caucasus. A 2016 report found the mutilations were being performed in remote villages of Daghestan, a region east of Ingushetia.

FGM is defined as partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. According to the World Health Organization, the procedure can cause severe bleeding and other serious complications. FGM has no health benefits, the WHO says.

Clinic Denials

The mother of the girl, who left her father years ago, said he came to pick her and her brother up for a visit on June 21, 2019. According to the mother, her son called the next day, saying the girl had returned to her father's home bloodied and crying.

According to the mother, the man's new wife had taken the 9-year-old girl to the Aibolit clinic.

According to the girl's grandmother, the girl screamed and struggled to free herself during the procedure. The stepmother and staff held the girl down, telling her that all girls had the procedure done and that she would die if she didn't.

FGM is not banned in Russia and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has become more common in mostly Muslim regions of the North Caucasus.
FGM is not banned in Russia and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has become more common in mostly Muslim regions of the North Caucasus.

The girl's mother first filed a criminal complaint on June 27, 2019, in the neighboring Chechnya region, where she is registered as a resident.

Nalgiyeva admitted at the time to carrying out the procedure on the girl, but later denied it.

The director of the Aibolit clinic, Beslan Matiyev, denied any wrongdoing and told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that he believed the family was motivated by money. He also claimed that a receipt for the procedure, for 2,000 rubles ($28), was fake.

Zarema Chakhkiyeva, the children's affairs ombudswoman in Ingushetia, did not respond to requests by RFE/RL for comment.

Dzhambulat Ozdoyev, the Ingushetian regional human rights commissioner, said the he was ready to examine the case once the girl's family filed a complaint.

Taking On FGM

Lawyers say that if the Investigative Committee opens a probe, it would be a first in Russia, although technically it would be examining child-abuse charges and not FGM specifically.

A Netherlands-based human rights group focusing on legal protection for victims of rights abuses linked to gender-based and other violence in countries of the former Soviet Union, Stichting Justice Initiative (SRJI), documented cases of FGM involving girls in Daghestan in 2016.

Shortly after that, a senior Islamic spiritual leader in Daghestan sparked controversy after endorsing FGM.

The mufti of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, another mostly Muslim region in the North Caucasus, Ismail Berdiyev, said all women should be circumcised "to end depravity."

Religious Figure Sparks Controversy In Russia After Endorsing Female Genital Mutilation
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The UN children's organization, UNICEF, estimated in February that some 200 million girls and women had undergone genital mutilation in 31 countries around the world.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan and Anna Peysakhova of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service