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Girls & Women

London Mum Gets 11 Years in Jail After First-Ever FGM Conviction

By Emma Batha

LONDON, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The first person in Britain to be convicted of female genital mutilation was sentenced to 11 years on Friday for cutting her three-year-old daughter.

"Let's be clear: FGM is a form of child abuse," Justice Philippa Whipple told the Ugandan mother-of-two. "It is a barbaric practice and a serious crime."

The conviction last month came more than 30 years after the practice was outlawed.

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Police and anti-FGM campaigners have said it will send a strong message that FGM will be prosecuted.

The maximum sentence for FGM is 14 years.

The judge told the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, there were "particularly sickening features" of the case, including that the cutting was done at the girl's home, where she should have felt safe.

"As (her) mother you betrayed her trust in you as her protector," the judge said, adding that the psychological impact could become a "significant and life-long burden".

Commenting on the sentence, Britain's interior minister Sajid Javid tweeted: "A welcome reminder, on #InternationalWomansDay, that we will never tolerate this barbaric medieval practice."

London's Central Criminal Court heard how police launched an investigation after the girl's parents rushed her to hospital on Aug. 28, 2017, following severe bleeding and doctors found three cuts to her genitalia.

The mother, 37, said her daughter had hurt herself falling from a kitchen worktop at their east London flat.

But the girl told police she had been held down and cut by a "witch".

Four doctors, including leading FGM experts, testified that the cuts had been made with a sharp implement and could not be explained by a fall.

WITCHCRAFT

The jury heard how the mother turned to witchcraft to try to silence investigators and the director of public prosecutions.

Police found cows' tongues with nails embedded in them in her freezer and limes containing slips of paper bearing the names of people involved in the case and messages such as "I freeze your mouth".

The former care worker said she did not come from an ethnic group that practised FGM, and no motive was given in court.

However, the jury heard she had sought help from a "prophet" to "cleanse" her daughter, via an online contact in Nigeria.

The woman was also sentenced to two years to run consecutively after she admitted distributing pornographic videos, one involving children.

The girl's Ghanaian father was acquitted of FGM, but sentenced to 11 months for possession of pornography.

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

The Crown Prosecution Service's Lynette Woodrow said outside court the sentence underlined that FGM was "an extremely serious form of child abuse".

She expressed hope the conviction would encourage others who have had FGM, or have suspicions about FGM offences, to come forward.

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 and Sudan.

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.

World leaders have pledged to end FGM, which affects at least 200 million girls and women, according to U.N. data.

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)