World / Social Issues

London woman guilty of mutilating daughter in landmark female genital mutilation trial

Thomson Reuters Foundation

A London mother has been found guilty of subjecting her 3-year-old daughter to female genital mutilation in Britain’s first conviction for the practice, more than 30 years after it was outlawed.

The Ugandan mother of two, who cannot be named for legal reasons, could face up to 14 years in prison. Justice Philippa Whipple adjourned sentencing Friday until March 8.

Police and anti-FGM campaigners said the conviction sent a strong message that FGM is child abuse and will be prosecuted.

Police launched an investigation after the girl’s parents rushed her to a hospital on Aug. 28, 2017, following severe bleeding and doctors found three cuts to her genitalia.

In the following months the mother performed dozens of witchcraft spells — two involving cows’ tongues with nails embedded in them — to try to silence investigators and the director of public prosecutions.

The girl’s Ghanaian father, who was also on trial, was acquitted of female genital mutilation and of failing to protect his daughter from the risk of FGM.

During the trial, the 37-year-old mother told London’s Central Criminal Court that her daughter had hurt herself falling from a kitchen work-top at their east London flat.

But the girl told police she had been held down and cut by a “witch.” Her older brother later wrote a letter to police saying his mother had cut her.

The obstetrician who treated the girl told the jury her injuries were like cases of botched FGM he had seen in his native Sudan.

The court heard the mother turned to witchcraft to try to halt police investigations following her arrest.

Aside from the cows’ tongues, police found 40 limes in a freezer at her home containing the names of people involved in the case with messages such “I freeze your mouth” and “I freeze you out of my life.”

An expert on FGM said the practice is not connected to witchcraft.

However, the jury heard that the mother had sought help from a “prophet” to “cleanse” her daughter, via an online contact in Nigeria.

Police and prosecutors in Britain have faced mounting pressure to secure a conviction for FGM, which was outlawed in 1985. Two previous trials ended in acquittals.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects diaspora communities from many countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.

The internationally condemned practice typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia.

Campaigners say the ritual — often justified for cultural or religious reasons — is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality.

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