LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. – An immigrant from Africa has gone on trial on charges alleging he circumcised his 2-year-old daughter with a pair of scissors to avoid bringing shame on his family.
It appears to be a groundbreaking prosecution for a case of female genital mutilation in the U.S., said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now, a New York-based human rights group that focuses on violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.
Khalid Adem could face 40 years in prison if convicted in Gwinnett County on the charges of aggravated battery and cruelty to children.
Prosecutor Marty First acknowledged that Adem, who was born in Ethiopia, is from a culture that practices female circumcision.
"But circumcision is just a nice way of saying mutilation," First told the jury in his opening statement Tuesday. "There is no doubt that she was mutilated. And this is not something you go to a doctor and do because no doctor will do it. He did this to his own baby."
The practice, a tradition in some African cultures, is widely condemned by human rights groups and has been outlawed in the United States since 1997.
Police have said that Adem used scissors to circumcise his daughter in their Duluth apartment in 2001. The child's mother said she didn't discover it until more than a year later.
"He did not do that. He never wanted it to happen," defense attorney W. Mark Hill told the jury. "He will tell you that. And that only leaves two people. The people who were primarily taking care of the child. The mother and the grandmother."
First said the girl told Gwinnett County authorities that her father cut her. The prosecutor quoted Adem as saying in late 2002 and early 2003 that if the girl were not circumcised, "it will be a shame to the family."
"He said he wanted [the girl] to have it done so that she will not be promiscuous," First added. He also said Adem implied he had already circumcised the girl.
Hill denied Adem ever made any of those statements and asked how the victim's mother could not have known for more than a year that the girl was circumcised.
Hill said Fortunate Adem's allegations stem from a nasty divorce and a custody battle over the girl.