Pontiac – Children of two Oakland County couples who are subject to state child welfare complaints will remain with their parents as an investigation of female genital mutilation continues, an Oakland Juvenile Court referee ruled Tuesday in separate hearings.
Referee Scott Hamilton approved child protection petitions, which will go to Oakland Circuit Judge Victoria Valentine for a pretrial conference and possible decision. Child welfare officials are seeking to terminate the parental rights of several families from a small Shia Muslim sect in Metro Detroit, alleging their children are victims of female genital mutilation.
But Hamilton agreed with attorneys for the couples, state Health and Human Services workers investigating the families, and an assistant county prosecutor that the children from the two families involved in Tuesday’s hearings do not appear “in any risk” at this time.
More than one attorney described the children to Hamilton as happy and “thriving” and said removing them from their parents would be traumatic.
One West Bloomfield Township couple who appeared in court Tuesday have two daughters, ages 4 and 7. Hamilton set a May 30 pretrial conference before Valentine.
The other couple are from Farmington Hills and have a girl in elementary school and a high-school aged son. The couple were ordered to return to court on June 1 for a pretrial conference before Valentine.
All of the families facing petitions to terminate parental custody are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, consisting of about 125 families who belong to a mosque in Farmington Hills. The sect is embroiled in a growing conspiracy that came to light last month in federal court.
Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, and Dr. Jumana Nagarwala were indicted last month by a federal grand jury and accused of cutting two 7-year-old Minnesota girls brought to Metro Detroit in February as part of a procedure practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra. The sect is based in western India.
Health and Human Services workers and law enforcement officers have visited the homes of at least three Metro Detroit families and interviewed the children last month. Their parents have been cooperative with investigations, assistant county prosecutor Anthony Marek told Hamilton.
The appointed guardian ad litem, Karen Cook, who is assigned to act as the children’s legal adviser and defend their rights, told Hamilton Tuesday, “I do believe the children are in ongoing danger and I would ask that they be removed.”
Cook noted the “on-call” state child protection case worker only visits the home of suspected abuse once a month and there is “very little supervision” of the families.
“I don’t understand why (state officials) aren’t asking for removal,” she told Hamilton. “It makes no sense.”
Cook said the cases individually qualify for aggravated circumstances of physical abuse of children, which under state and federal law, requires removing them from the care of those suspected of abuse.
“The department sympathizes with (Cook),” said Marek. “We agree the safety of the children is paramount ... but the risk here is mitigated and are not asking for removal.”
Marek was referring to the fact that the Attars and Nagarwala remain in jail after being charged in the genital mutilation scandal. Investigators said the Attars performed the procedure on several young girls at their Livonia clinic.
The Attars’ daughter is in the temporary care of relatives at her parents’ home. A full custody hearing in that case was adjourned on Monday to allow arrangements to be made for the Attars to attend by phone conference. It is scheduled for May 16 before Oakland Juvenile Court Referee Karla Mallett.
With the Attars jailed and their clinic closed, there is no concern of additional procedures, Health and Human Services workers and attorneys reasoned.
Cook was not reassured. “He is not the only one in Michigan that does this,” she said, referring to Fakhruddin Attar.
Among conditions for the children remaining at their homes, Hamilton said the parents must provide appropriate medical care for them and cooperate with investigators and Cook – including allowing visits and providing them with the children’s medical records.
Hamilton told the parents not to discuss the cases with their children, who may eventually be called to testify in court. He also expressly said the children are not to have any future procedures of any kind that might be viewed as female genital mutilation by the state of Michigan.
“I’m going to allow children to remain in your home,” Hamilton told the couples at the end of separate hearings, adding that any reports of noncooperation could lead to the children being removed from their care.
On request of attorneys, Hamilton also issued a gag order on any media reporting of the names of the children or of their parents who have not been charged with any crimes.