Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the UK for 33 years — and despite numerous prosecutions, there had never been a successful conviction.
That is until Friday, when a court in east London found a 37-year-old mother guilty of subjecting her 3-year-old daughter to the practice.
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Prosecutors argued that the mother instructed her daughter to lie to police about the incident, and made it difficult for social workers to investigate the case, according to the BBC.
After the girl revealed to a social worker that her parents cut her, police found bloody garments at their home, and a doctor later determined that the girls’ injuries were consistent with FGM.
The woman denied the charges against her, claiming instead that her daughter fell on a piece of metal that mutilated her. She wept as the judge found her guilty on two counts, FGM and failing to protect her child from the act, which could result in a jail sentence of up to 14 years, the BBC reported.
The identities of all persons involved in the case are being withheld to protect the girl. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin on March 8, and could set an important precedent for future FGM cases.
What Is FGM?
FGM is the term used to describe the non-medical procedure that partially or totally removes the external female genitalia — with extremely harmful health consequences. Survivors have reported serious issues with sex, urination, menstruation, pregnancy, and more.
It’s often seen by practicing communities as a ceremony of purification, to prepare daughters for marriage. But ultimately, it is the attempt of a patriarchal society to control female sexuality — and a serious human rights violation, according to the UN.
There are 200 million women and girls alive today who have undergone FGM — and it’s estimated that 137,000 have been affected by the practice in Britain too.
Yet there have previously only been three trials prosecuting FGM in the UK: against a doctor in 2013, a father in Bristol in February last year; and, several weeks later, a 49-year-old man in south London who allegedly used the procedure as a “punishment” on his teenage daughter.
If convicted, the sentence could have been up to 14 years in jail — but all three were found not guilty.
Leyla Hussein, a British-Somali anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, and survivor, underwent FGM when she was 7 years old. She has since become one of the leading campaigners on the issue in Britain, starring in BAFTA-nominated Channel 4 documentary “The Cruel Cut” in 2013.
“I cried for a good hour after hearing it,” Hussein told Global Citizen, responding to Friday’s historic conviction. “I wasn’t expecting it. Some of us have been waiting for this for so long, so there’s a mix of emotions. We want justice for this little girl, but what really breaks my heart is that we could have stopped this from happening.”
Hussein grew up in the UK, but did not know that FGM was wrong until she was 21 — while her daughter was only two months old. Today, Hussein feels like “it could’ve been me” on trial, since she went so long without the right information. She told us that her daughter is “not cut today because somebody intervened.”
“This girl will have to wake up with this every day of her life — and we could have prevented it,” she said. “Our government needs to step up by putting more resources in with prevention work.”
“Today I don’t speak as a psychotherapist,” she added. “I speak as a survivor. It’s a happy day — but a really sad day too in the same sentiment… I hope this case brings some awareness that more has to be done.”
Historical day because this is a crime and this little girl deserves justice but also a very sad day we could have prevented this, More resources 4 prevention is a must, FGM has a long life of physical and emotional pain , I’m terribly sad by all of this but #justicewasservedhttps://t.co/uOQ5RWBRvt— Dr Leyla Hussein FRSA (@LeylaHussein) February 1, 2019
FGM has been illegal in England and Wales since the 1985 Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act. It was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003, which extended the jail term to 14 years and criminalised “holiday cutting”, the act of taking a girl overseas for the procedure.
The FGM Act was then amended with the 2015 Serious Crime Act, introducing protection orders to temporarily remove at-risk children from their families, allow anonymity of victims, and enforce mandatory reporting for frontline health professionals.
In November 2018, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) announced it would invest £50 million over the next five years from its UK aid budget to fight FGM in the most affected countries in Africa. It claims that it’s the largest ever single injection of funds from an international donor on the issue.