Here are the bare bones:
There is a mother, Fortunate Adem. She was born in South Africa and moved here when she was six. Her age isn’t given. There is a father, Khalid Adem, who was born in Ethiopia and came to the U.S. when he was sixteen. He is now thirty.
The couple met at junior college in Georgia. They were married in 1999, and their daughter was born in September of that year. The family settled in Duluth, Georgia. It is alleged that in September or October of 2001 the father performed a clitoridectomy on his two-year-old. They divorced acrimoniously in 2003 after the mother accused the father of mutilating their child.
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2003 is also the year the father was arrested, and he was indicted the next year on charges of aggravated battery and child cruelty. He was released on bond following the indictment and continued to work in the same store where he had been employed prior to his arrest.
The case went to trial, and last week the prosecution rested. Among the witnesses called was the child, now seven years old. She testified that her father “cut my private part.” The media reported several versions of this quote.
I am puzzled by some of the “facts” in this case. Readers’ comments about the following points would be welcome. Please, however, stick to the points of contention and avoid irrelevant remarks about the family members.
- Question: I have no doubt this a Class One female genital mutilation. But how can a seven-year-old provide reliable information on an incident — no matter how traumatic — that happened five years previously, when she was barely two years old? Notice that I said “reliable”. In other words, to use the court’s jargon, would a reasonable man find this testimony credible?
- Question: The father worked, and perhaps the mother did, too. The details of their daily married routine aren’t available, but it is obvious that he was not the primary caretaker. Yet the mother claims not to have known until a year and a half later that her daughter’s clitoris had been cut off with a pair of scissors. Any mother will find this part of the testimony hard to fathom. With toddlers, on a daily basis, you get to see far more of their behinds than you really want to. How can a child say NOTHING, how can a mother notice NOTHING for a year and half? And now, five years later in court, the child can smoothly accuse Daddy of cutting her with the scissors, and the mother can claim:
Her whole life has been changed. She is going to be traumatized psychologically. Parts of her body have been taken away from her without her consent. They need to look at this child the same way they would if she had been raped.
There is a glaring disconnect between the mother who lived with her child and noticed NOTHING, and the mother who now asserts the traumatization of her daughter.
- Question: The mother and the mother-in-law both refused to undergo a polygraph test about their roles in this incident. Yes, it’s true that neither polygraph results nor such a refusal would be admissible as evidence in the case. But, in its context, their reluctance stands stands out. What were the reasons for their refusal?
- Question: A tape of a phone conversation between the mother and the father was excluded by the court as evidence in the case. On that tape the mother, whose anger is alleged to have been extreme never mentions the mutilation of the daughter. If you were separated from the man who did such a thing to your child, would you not be compelled to mention it during an angry tirade? Even once?
- A point has been repeated that Ethiopia practices female genital mutilation, but that South Africa, the mother’s birthplace, does not. This is not entirely true. And in Ethiopia, as far as I have been able to ascertain, this ritual is performed by women, never men. It is not their role, and they are not around when it happens. In fact, both parents are usually absent during the procedure, because of the pain it causes the child. This is simply another way in which this story goes astray.
- A question on due process: This man was indicted in 2004. Why has this case been hanging fire for two and a half years? The mother immediately began to work with Georgia legislators to outlaw this practice. But it was already a felony to cut off someone’s body part, or to physically damage a child. Aside from the grandstanding in the legislature, I’m not sure what the point of all this legal exertion was. It certainly brought a few years’ publicity to the mother, so I suppose it had that advantage. However, to a reasonable person, this law would appear to fall in the same category as “hate” crimes: it takes an already established vicious felony and ratchets it up a notch, for political reasons. This is perverted.
- One final point: I’ve looked at some of the blogosphere’s reaction to this trial, and it seems to be generally assumed that this is a case of Shar’ia law at work. However, there is no indication that this man is a Muslim; Ethiopia has a mixture of religions, and is about one-third Muslim. Even more important, female genital mutilation does not appear across all of Islam. It is a tribal practice, generally confined to parts of Africa. In Egypt, the Islamic Court has ruled variously as to whether or not it is demanded, permitted, or banned by the Koran. So while Muslim women are all second-class citizens by law, they are not all routinely subjected to this ritual.
According to tradition, at one point Mohammed happened upon a woman who was about to perform the operation on a little girl. At most, he warned her not to cut too deeply, or she would interfere with the husband’s pleasure. A liberal interpretation could see this as a resigned admonition in the face of an irresistible age-old tradition. However, his response is not glossed as an imperative.
We don’t enhance a reputation for accuracy in the blogosphere if we merely assume this man must be a Muslim, and that he is guilty, and that female genital mutilation is some form of Islamic law. It could turn out that none of the above is true. It could turn out that this is a hideous ritual practiced by many tribes in that area of the world, be they Muslim, Christian, or animist. It could turn out that it is performed on little girls by women, but not by men.
Let us not bruise ourselves jumping to conclusions. There are far too many gaps and contradictions in this story for any clear or easy assumptions.
I pity the jury.
Resources used in the writing of this post:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/2/2004
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/21/2006
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/22/2006
Gwinnett Daily Post, 10/24/2006
Gwinnett Daily Post, 10/26/2006
WIS TV10, 10/26/2006
Fox News, 10/27/2006