On the 28th of November 2019, a court in Ireland ruled its very first sentence on female genital mutilation (FGM). A couple has been accused of organising and tolerating the mutilation of their daughter who had been one year old at the time of execution. This is the first time such a case has been prosecuted since the implementation of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act in 2012 which criminalises the execution of FGM on Irish residents, within Ireland and abroad.
The defendants pled not guilty. According to their testimonies, the injuries of their daughter were caused by accident as the latter fell on the ground and thereby landed on a toy. Several doctors have been consulted and none of them could confirm these statements. Neither the specific kind of injuries nor the existing evidence match the order of incidents. The toy to which the defendants referred in their testimonies has been examined, however, no traces or marks could be identified. After the incident, the girl had to be brought to the emergency room of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin in order to stop the ongoing severe blooding. The paediatric surgeon who took care of the child affirmed that the injuries are identical with type I of FGM, a clitoridectomy. A criminal conviction for both defendants would mean a punishment ranging from a fine of up to 10.000 Euros to imprisonment of up to 14 years. There is no possibility for the parents to be released on bail. The affected girl and her siblings are now under the custody of their aunt.
This case illustrates a significant moment in the fight against female genital mutilation in Europe. First, because it once again proves that FGM takes place in Europe as well. Secondly, the conviction sends a strong signal and might contribute to families changing their mindset on whether to cut their daughters or not. However, a legal prohibition of female genital mutilation is just not enough to overcome the practices. This can also be seen through the usually long temporal gaps between criminalisation and the first registered cases, let alone convictions. Whereas, in Ireland it “only” took seven years to have the first sentencing on FGM, in Great Britain, FGM has been illegal since 1985. It took an entirety of 34 years until the first case had been condemned earlier this year. Even though FGM is punishable in Germany since 2013, there has not been a sentence so far. This is to some extent, but not completely, due to the lack of practical law enforcement. In order to initiate an effective change of behaviour, consistent awareness-raising and sensitisation work are crucial. Long-term community engagement has shown to be the best practice to overcome female genital mutilation. Projects such as Let’s CHANGE are gaining in importance in order to cause sustainable change.