Illustration: Anna Ivantsova | Glasnaya
In 2019 a nine-year-old girl from Grozny, Chechnya, underwent an operation of female genital mutilation – at the behest of her father and stepmother the girl’s clitoral hood was removed in an Ingush clinic Aibolit. In addition to physical suffering, the girl suffered a severe moral trauma. The World Health Organization and the United Nations recognize such operations as torture, inhuman and cruel treatment, the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation also criticizes this practice. After the mother’s attempts to take legal action against those who abused the girl, a court in Ingushetia found the doctor Izana Nalgieva guilty of causing only minor harm to the health of a child, and sentenced her to a fine of 30 thousand rubles, and later released her from punishment due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Glasnaya publishes a monologue by the girl’s mother, who tells a story about how the ignorance of the Middle Ages not just penetrates people’s minds, but also corrupts state institutions. In the interests of safety, we do not disclose the name of the mother and the real name of the girl herself.
“We are not supposed to marry Chechen women”
I was 16 years old, but I was sexually precocious, I looked older than my age. He used to come to Grozny, to the neighborhood where we with my mother were renting an apartment. He saw me and started courting me. He was an Ingush, he was 22 at that time. We were dating for a year, and then I had to leave with my mother to stay in Moscow when the war began. In Moscow he kidnapped me.
So, I got married when I was 17. When my son was two months old, my husband went to jail for stealing a car. Law enforcement officers broke into our house, they were searching the apartment and threatening me. I’ve seen many troubles since then. During those three and a half years while he stayed in prison, I had to live my life on my own and bought an apartment in Ingushetia.
My husband was not bad to me. In fact, he was a good person. If only not his relatives, I would never have divorced him, but they didn’t want to leave us alone. When my husband was in jail, his brother visited me. My boy was playing on the floor, and he didn’t even take off his shoes. He said: “Marry some of your Chechen guys, but we, Ingush men, are not supposed to marry Chechen women. It is a shame for us that he got married against everyone’s will. If you want your son, take him, if you don’t, we will raise him according to our traditions.”
We had lived together for about seven years, but finally his family did not let him stay with me. They insisted that he should leave me and get married to a Chechen woman. The tradition is that in the presence of two witnesses, a husband says to his wife in our language: “I let you go. You may marry another man in the future.” He must say some exact words. Ten people came with him to help him leave me. And they dictated to him what to say. He did not want to leave, but left, eventually we divorced.
When we got divorced, I didn’t know I was pregnant, I found out that later, and my baby girl was born. There is an eight-year age difference between siblings. Was it good for me to divorce, or was it bad, I wasn’t thinking about it at all. He was just the first man I had ever spoken to. He was my first man in my life. Of course, I didn’t feel well at all.
Then we moved back to Grozny. I was trying to ignore him as much as I could. But he kept on visiting and calling, he was chasing me.
When he was visiting Grozny, he used to spend some time with his children, not very often though. I couldn’t break all ties, and tell my children – “You don’t have a daddy.” It’s impossible to do this way according to our traditions. A father is a father. He had more contact with his son than with his daughter.
They brought someone else’s child and said: “Cut it off.”
Three years ago, in 2019, my ex-husband asked me to let my children visit him in Magas. Of course, I let them go, my son and my daughter. On a Friday evening he came to Grozny to pick them up. The next day in the afternoon when I was with my mother at the market, my son called me and said: “Aliya was circumcised.”
As it turned out later, on Saturday morning her stepmother took her to the Aibolit clinic. They convinced the girl that she had a burning sensation and swelling in an intimate place. It was a lie, the girl had never been ill in her life, well, maybe only as normally children sometimes get sick when the temperature rises or they have a cough, she had no serious illnesses.
My mother and I went from Grozny to Ingushetia, to Magas. I did not know the address where my husband lived with his new family. I called my son and said that we would be waiting for him at a certain place near a gas station, so that he would meet us and show us the way.
We took the girl back home from there, her dress got wet with blood. She had a fever, so we called an ambulance. The ambulance crew was embarrassed what to do, because doctors had never had a case like this before, in our republic this is not common. They were looking at each other and didn’t know what to do. I explained them that the girl was circumcised. They answered, she is not a boy, in the Muslim religion they do it with boys, but not girls.
At last, they had an instruction to bring the girl to the hospital. There was a pediatrician on duty, she was also a gynecologist. Her first emotions were like these – “It’s horrible! Someone did it deliberately to harm.” Honestly, I tell you word for word.
That was awful, everything was swollen, it was not clear what was removed and what was not. Of course, gradually the wound has healed, children’s sores usually heal quickly. But before it she could not even go to the toilet, only with a shower, because there was a strong burning sensation, and she was crying. Emotionally she was absolutely down. The girl closed for others, she was afraid of doctors, she had tantrums from them. It was simply impossible to take her to the hospital.
She had never liked to sleep under a blanket. At night I used to wake up and wrap her. But since then, she pulls up her blanket to feel safe, curls up and time after time screams at night. She is a peculiar child, she had never been very emotional before, but after what happened she closed herself off from everything. She is even shy of me when she takes a bath, so now she takes a both on her own, but when I used to bathe her, she was cringing, such a shy child. And she, a nine-year-old child, was held by strangers in an unfamiliar place, without her mother around, in a strange city. She had seen her stepmother and father only a few times. She knew his father only by video calls, but she had never lived with him. The son had some contact with him, but the girl had no contact with him at all.
Illustration: Anna Ivantsova | Glasnaya
As I understand it now, in the clinic they injected her a local anesthetic. They took off her underwear and said, “You will die if you don’t get vaccinated.” But I had always kept saying: “Aliya, if someone comes to your school and tells you to get vaccinated, say that your mom and your grandmother don’t allow to do it. When it is necessary, I can take you to a vaccination site myself, and then you will be vaccinated. If some stranger comes to your school, always refuse, do not let anyone to vaccinate you.” And at school the girl always answered that her grandmother and mother did not allow her to be vaccinated. In “Aibolit” they told her: “You will die if you don’t get this vaccine.” A nine-year-old child on a gynecological chair was held by the legs and arms, and she was screaming. Two nurses and the stepmother were holding her, while the doctor was performing the operation. While doing this the doctor asked the stepmother, if she was the girl’s mother, and she replied, “Almost.” This is what the girl heard herself, and later told me, when I started asking her.
Can you imagine, this means that may do a circumcision without any documents at all, without any medical tests! The doctor did not know at all who was brought to the clinic, maybe someone else’s child. They brought someone else’s child and said: “Cut it off.” And the doctor did it.
“It’s embarrassing to talk about intimate places with a male investigator”
The new wife of my ex-husband took her own daughter to the clinic as well. There is about a year difference between my daughter and hers. When I told her that she had no right to do this to my child, even just pull off her underwear, she answered that the girl had swelling and a festering sore there.
This woman’s daughter did not cry, but mine did. Later, by the way, the doctor was asked a question, suppose one girl had a health problem, but what about the other? After all, if two girls were brought to the hospital for circumcision, does it mean that two of them had similar health problem at the same time? Actually, I think that this woman just lies to her husband that she also circumcised her daughter, but in fact she probably didn’t.
I think a person should always put himself in the place of others. If I were in the place of my ex-husband’s new wife, I would say to my husband: “I won’t do it, let the girl go with her mother to get circumcised. I will not take on such responsibility. Does her mom even know what you want to do to the girl?” I would say so. But while the farther was sleeping, she herself took both girls to the clinic.
My daughter told me that the word “Aibolit” (the name of a fictional character Doctor Aibolit from a children’s book) was written in colored letters on the signboard of this clinic in Magas. I found the clinic on the Internet, and my cousin messaged to the clinic.
But when we asked them in a message, they replied, yes, they do circumcision for a certain price. They did not deny this fact.
We visited this clinic to talk to the manager. At first, they claimed that they had Aliya’s medical record there. Then the manager admitted that they did not have any papers. He was confused, started calling somewhere. They thought they could get away with it, as usual. They did not think that someone would come to them and say something to them. Later they wrote some fake test results, some kind of a fictional patient record card.
At first, I was not going to report to the police, I just had no time for it. I was anxious about my daughter, and didn’t think about the police. But we called an ambulance, and the ambulance crew reported to the law enforcement agency. That’s how the investigator visited us, and that’s how it all began. We explained everything to this investigator, although it was uneasy for us to explain to a man that a girl was circumcised. My mother, as an older person, spoke in her own words, and I even left the room, because it was embarrassing to talk about intimate places to a male investigator.
“Who would need that log, when she got married?”
When I called my ex-husband and asked why he did this to our child, he replied: “So that she couldn’t get sexually excited in future.” He claims that this is how it should be done according to Islam and that I am against Islam. But among us, among the Chechens, this is not common. I know that in Dagestan, in some villages in the mountains, female circumcision is practiced. But it seems to be banned now after our case. Our case was the first to go to the court. But the doctor was sentenced to a ridiculously small fine. I can’t even talk about it. I would like this person to be punished so that she could never work in this profession again. The clinic should bear responsibility too.
The girl will have this trauma for the rest of her life, she was not three or two years old to forget about it, she was nine years old. The girl will suffer the consequences for all her life. If this was done so that she couldn’t not get excited, what will happen when she gets married? Who needs a log in his bed?
They sealed her fate. And there are many such girls who’ve been “corrected” this way.
I received many messages and calls from other women who also encountered this problem, many of them from Makhachkala, Republic of Dagestan. But none of them went up to the end and brought their cases before the court. I didn’t even have it on my mind to call the police right after it happened. We don’t do like in Russia, like in Moscow, where they immediately rush to the police to write a statement against each other, when any miner problem occurs. We don’t do like this, we were not grown up that way. Therefore, I did not think about it, I was warrying about other things. But now I understand that this story should be told to everybody a hundred times a day. I wish this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“It is obvious hatred for a social group called “girls””
A lawyer, Tatyana Savvina, explains why there is no way in Russia to protect children from forced circumcision.
On January 28, 2022, Isa Daurbekov, Justice of the Peace of the Court District No. 15 of the Republic of Ingushetia, sentenced Izana Nalgiyeva, a pediatric gynecologist, who in June 2019 performed mutilation on a nine-year-old girl. The court found Nalgieva guilty of causing minor bodily harm (Part 1 of Article 115 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and sentenced her to a fine of 30 thousand rubles, and later released her from punishment due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Lawyers of the Justice Initiative project (recognized by the Russian Ministry of Justice as a “foreign agent”) appealed against this verdict, demanding that it should be canceled and the case be returned to the prosecutor’s office in order to qualify the doctor’s actions under a more serious Article.
Tatyana Savvina, the project’s lawyer, in the interests of the girl filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. The complaint says that in Russia there is no way to protect children from forced circumcision, and the facts of mutilation are not investigated. This complaint was the first appeal of that kind from Russia to the Court in Strasbourg.
“Glasnaya” asked Tatyana Savvina to comment on this case:
– We heard this story in May 2020, when the case was already being considered by the court. The judge urged the girl’s family to reconcile with the doctor, and the girl’s aunt realized that it was unlikely that there would be a fair trial and a fair sentence. So she wrote about what happened in various groups on a social media VKontakte, and after learning about this story, we decided to contact the girl’s mother and aunt, the case went to court thanks to them. They wrote a statement to the prosecutor’s office, to the Investigative Committee. They were shocked that the father decided to do this. They, of course, never wanted this this happens to their girl.
Illustration: Anna Ivantsova | Glasnaya
The girl’s mother wrote a statement about the crime to the Investigative Committee, in which she laid out all the circumstances of the operation – that the circumcision was carried out at the initiative of the girl’s father, and the girl’s stepmother took the girl to the clinic and together with the clinic nurse and the doctor forcibly were holding her during the operation. She wrote that the operation was conducted at the Aibolit clinic in Ingushetia. She asked the investigating authorities to investigate the case and bring to justice all those who are responsible for the action. Law enforcement agencies questioned the clinic manager, the nurse and another employee of this clinic, the father and his wife and the doctor. However, when the investigation came to an end, only the doctor was charged. The investigators refused to recognize the clinic’s management as an accomplice, while that kind of services were on offer in the clinic.
The materials against the father, his wife and the nurse, for some reason, were separated out into a separate proceeding, and we have received several refusals to initiate a criminal case since then on the grounds that it is impossible to prove the involvement of these persons in the committed crime. Why is it impossible, what a strange statement? There were several such refusals to open a case against the father, his wife and the nurse.
We have challenged these refusals in court many times. After our complaints, these refusals to initiate proceedings were canceled and the investigation was formally resumed. But then they rejected again. When we appealed against the rejection in court, pointing to many years of inaction of the investigation, the court did not consider our arguments. We also mentioned this point in our complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.
We wrote a statement against the management of the Aibolit clinic and asked the Investigative Committee to check the work of the clinic during several years. Female circumcision had been on offer on their website since 2016. It was necessary to find out how this clinic had been operating and how many operations had been performed on other children at least since 2016. But still we received a refusal to initiate proceedings. The investigator wrote: “We checked the work of the clinic during 2020, they were not providing services in pediatric gynecology, there were no any violations.” But we asked to check all the clinic’s performance during previous years! We again appealed against the decision to refuse, but the court again said that there were no violations.
Why this happens that way? Because there is a general tolerance for genital mutilation. Law enforcement agencies in Ingushetia do not consider this to be something serious, they do not believe that the situation needs to be changed.
The problem is in the Russian legislation itself. The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation has three articles on causing harm to health, the cases of which are divided into severe, moderate and miner. How to differentiate bodily injuries coursed is established by medical criteria approved by the Order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, but actions with the female genitals are not mentioned there, the clitoris is also not mentioned, and therefore circumcision cannot be classified as serious or moderate harm to health. Investigators classify actions of that kind as minor harm to health, which is absolutely inadequate. Minor harm to health is defined by the law as a short-term health disorder, not exceeding 21 days, which is definitely not the case of mutilation operations, the physical and psychological consequences after mutilation remain for life. We believe that changes should be made to the medical criteria regarding genital mutilation, or a separate Article in the Criminal Code is needed to provide punishment directly for operations of this kind. I think that changes in Russian legislation can stimulate a process in the European Court of Human Rights, we are counting on it.
Illustration: Anna Ivantsova | Glasnaya
Theoretically, mutilation operations can be qualified as violent sexual acts against underage person – Article 132 of the Criminal Code. But the investigation did not want to look at this issue from this angle. Already at the stage of the trial, we asked to return the case to the prosecutor for further investigation, including under this article. After all, these were violent actions with genitals that were carried out against a child (and the motive does not matter here, whether to satisfy a sexual need, as an act of revenge, or for some other reason). Article 132 stipulates a more severe punishment. But the court refused to return the case to the prosecutor.
We also tried to draw the attention of the court to the fact that this crime can be qualified under part 2 of Article 115 (deliberate causing minor bodily injuries based either on political, ideological, racial or religious hatred or enmity, or hatred towards any social group), but the court did not hear us again. In our opinion, there are qualifying evidences here – in Ingushetia the practice of female circumcision is widespread among a very narrow circle, among members of the Batal-Hadji religious brotherhood, among the members of this organization this is done to girls. This is done in order to control female sexuality. It is obvious hatred for a certain social group called “girls”.
Cases like this rarely go to court and the media don’t cover such cases,
A fine of 30 thousand rubles is a cost for ruining a child’s life. In our complaint to the European Court of Human Rights we talk not only about the ineffectiveness of the investigation and the punishment, but also that our legal system as a whole is ineffective in combating FGM.
For at least five years female genital mutilation in Russia has been a topic of discussion. We received the following responses from government agencies: they say, you interviewed the victims, but where are they, why don’t they speak out about it openly and go to the police? But after this case has gone to the court, it will no longer be possible to deny that we have this problem. It will be impossible to say that the problem is only on paper in the reports of human rights activists.
The Different series is a project by Glasnaya and Novaya Gazeta about people who do not meet the standards of today’s Russian society, which leads to them becoming invisible to the majority. In Russia, it is customary not to notice, to ignore “others”, those who are different—and ignorance becomes the breeding ground for xenophobia and discrimination.
Those who are different are often afraid to put themselves out there. But there are more and more people who have already overcome their fears. Those are women and men breaking stereotypes and the framework of patriarchy.
The material is published jointly with Novaya Gazeta.