LONDON, UK | A Ugandan mother of a three-year-old girl has become the first person to be found guilty of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK in a case that campaigners have welcomed as a breakthrough moment.
The Ugandan woman, 37, and her Ghanaian partner, 43, both from Walthamstow, east London, were accused of cutting their daughter over the 2017 summer bank holiday.
Police found spells inside 40 frozen limes and two ox tongues with screws embedded in them with the apparent aim of silencing police, social workers and lawyers involved in the case.
The 40 frozen limes containing spells aimed at silencing police, social workers officers and lawyers.
The defendants, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, denied FGM and an alternative charge of failing to protect a girl from risk of genital mutilation.
The mother cried in the dock as she was found guilty of FGM and her partner was cleared of all charges after the Old Bailey jury deliberated for less than a day.
FGM was made illegal in the UK more than three decades ago but prosecutors have struggled to bring sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
John Cameron, the NSPCC head of Childline, said the case was a landmark victory for all FGM survivors. “It takes courage to report concerns as many feel ashamed or worry they will betray friends and family, but we need to end the silence that surrounds FGM to better protect children.”
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity, said she believed more cases would now come before the courts. “It will give victims the confidence to come forwards,” she said. “It will give police forces, social services, teachers, frontline midwives, the expectation that something can finally succeed. It was so difficult to get anybody to come forward and talk about this.”
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “FGM is a sickening form of child abuse that leaves innocent young victims with physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime.
“I wholeheartedly welcome this landmark conviction – which comes after the government introduced tougher rules to criminalise this medieval practice. Let me be clear, we will not tolerate FGM and not rest until perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice.”
There have been three other trials involving FGM – two in London and one in Bristol – all of which ended in acquittals. Carrying out FGM carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Mrs Justice Whipple warned of a “lengthy” jail term as she remanded the woman in custody to be sentenced on 8 March. She told her: “You have been found guilty of a serious offence against your daughter.”
The two defendants were jointly accused of subjecting thegirl to FGM by “deliberate cutting with a sharp instrument” at her mother’s home in the presence of her father.
Medics raised the alarm when the girl was taken to Whipps Cross hospital with severe bleeding. A surgeon concluded the child had been cut with a scalpel when three separate sites of injury were found but no bruising or swelling of her genitals or thighs.
The defendants claimed their daughter had been reaching for a biscuit when she fell and cut herself on the edge of a kitchen cupboard. Medical experts confirmed the cause of her injuries was consistent with cutting rather than an accidental fall.
The victim later told specially trained officers a series of video interviews played to court that she had been cut by a “witch”.
While the parents were on bail, police searched the unemployed mother’s home and found evidence of witchcraft, including spells aimed at silencing police, social workers, officers and lawyers in the case.
Leethen Bartholomew, the head of the National FGM Centre, which is run in partnership by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said he hoped the case would serve as a warning to anyone considering having FGM carried out on their daughter.
“Speaking about what happened to her will have been a tremendously difficult experience for the victim, and with today’s verdict she has finally got the justice she deserves. The effects of female genital mutilation have a lifelong impact on survivors, both physically and psychologically, so it is vital support is in place for her for as long as she needs it,” he said.
“It is illegal and the police and the Crown Prosecution Service will do everything in their power to track down and bring to justice anyone who carries out FGM.”
There are thought to be 137,000 girls and women living with FGM, and 144,000 girls at risk of FGM in England and Wales, according to estimates by City University. The Home Office has identified women from a number of east African communities, including Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as Nigeria, the Middle East and Indonesia, as being most at risk.
There have been 298 prevention orders put in place to safeguard children at risk. This includes a number of restrictions, such as surrendering passports to prevent a girl being subjected to abuse.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, tweeted on Friday: “Today’s landmark conviction sends a clear message to those who practice this barbaric act that it will no longer go unpunished. Every woman and girl should be safe – and City Hall will continue to work with partners to end this abhorrent practice.”
Agencies | The Guardian, UK