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Woman accused of FGM says she is a victim herself and would not do the same to her daughter

A father and mother deny carrying out female genital mutilation on their daughter at their Dublin home in 2016.

File photo of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin city.
File photo of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin city.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 25th 2019, 5:45 PM

PARENTS ACCUSED OF allowing female genital mutilation (FGM) to be carried out on their young daughter at their family home in Dublin have said they do not agree with the practice, a court heard today.

The mother of the girl said she herself was a “victim” of FGM and would not allow the same thing happen to her daughter. 

The couple, who can’t be named for legal reasons, pleaded not guilty last week to carrying out FGM on their daughter, who was almost two years old at the time, on 16 September 2016.

The man, aged in his 30s, and woman, aged in her 20s, also pleaded not guilty to one count of child cruelty on the same day.

They claim their daughter sustained her injuries after falling on a toy, something that was disputed by doctors who examined the girl after she presented at hospital.

The trial is continuing before Judge Elma Sheahan at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today.

John Byrne BCL, prosecuting, read a record of interviews carried out by gardaí with the accused man on 22 and 23 September 2016.

Gardaí carrying out the interview asked the man what he knew about FGM. Bryne told the court the man’s response was that it was “a woman’s domain”, and “reserved only for the woman”.

“I know we’re not allowed to do it here, the younger generation of people know that, it’s illegal and you can go to jail for it.”

Bryne said the accused told gardaí that his wife had undergone FGM when she was younger but that her teenage niece, who has live in Ireland for 10 years, has never had it done.

The practice refers to the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

When asked if FGM was a problem in his community, the man stated: “It is not a problem, it is just prohibited.”

The court heard that the man told gardaí he knew the practice could cause many problems for women such as during intercourse, when giving birth, and during their periods.

The man described himself as a leader in his community and said he was “fighting” FGM to help “save girls”. He said his wife is “from the generation that is fighting it as well”.

During the interview, the court heard, gardaí asked the man if he would support FGM if it wasn’t illegal here. “No, I am aware of the consequences on the human being afterwards,” the man replied.

‘She screamed’ 

The couple claim that their daughter sustained her injuries when she fell onto a toy while not wearing a nappy. The man told gardaí that on the day of the alleged incident his wife was washing her hands in the bathroom after cleaning their daughter’s nappy.

“The little one was on the ground, she ran away like a child runs away. She was without clothing, she was not wearing a nappy.”

The man said he was holding a toy, a ball or balloon with lights on it that made sounds, which scared his daughter. “I squeezed it, she didn’t take the balloon, she ran away backwards,” he said.

The man said he then turned around as he wanted to clean the kitchen after breakfast. He turned back around when his daughter screamed, the court heard.

“She screamed, I went to pick her up and calm her down, I thought she hit the wall,” he said, adding that she was crying.

“I picked her up, her mother said something was dripping. I thought it was urine, but when I picked her up there was blood.”

The man said he and wife cleaned their daughter in the bathroom but she was still bleeding. He said he was going to call 999 but stopped when his wife explained that an ambulance “will take time”, so they drove to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin (OLCHC) to seek help.

“I find it hard to think that someone would think I [carried out FGM],” the man said in a later interview.

The man said he brought his daughter to hospital to “save her life”, the court heard. When it was put to him that any father would have done the same thing, he said: “Not any dad, my father-in-law was present when my wife was cut and he didn’t help her.”

Did not throw away toy 

The man was questioned as to why he or his wife did not throw away the toy which is alleged to have injured their daughter. It was still in the kitchen when gardaí visited their home a week after the alleged incident, the court heard. 

The man said he threw away the ball that scared his daughter but not the other toy. “The problem wasn’t the toy, it was the ball, that’s why I threw it away,” he told gardaí.

The man was arrested on 22 September 2016 and interviewed by gardaí five times on 22 and 23 September. A solicitor and a translator were present during the interviews, the court heard.

The girl’s mother was arrested on 13 December 2016 and interviewed by gardaí. She also repeatedly said that her daughter fell on a toy and that no FGM occurred, the court was told.

‘Women held me down’

The woman recalled undergoing FGM herself when she was about eight years old, at the request of her grandmother. She said she would not subject her daughter to the same thing.

My grandmother and maybe three women held me down – they held my arms, my head and my legs, my grandmother believed in it. The women were older, with experience, maybe 50 or 60. I remember crying, I would never do that to my daughter.

The court heard that the woman told gardaí, via an interpreter, she considered herself a “victim” of FGM.

“It happened to me at a very young age, I was around eight years old, I was not informed that it was going to happen. There were a lot of women in the house, as if it was a party.
I was asked to sit down, a lady sat on my back and two others sat on my legs, these three women held me in position.”

She said another woman proceeded to cut her with a blade before stitching up the wound.

The woman, who is an Irish citizen, said she and her husband never discussed carrying out FGM on their daughter. She also said that no one could have carried out FGM on her child without her knowledge, the court heard.

In the interview, gardaí told the woman: “We’re trying to work with what we have, we’re not trying to catch you out. The toy does not have anything sharp that could cause the injury that [the girl] suffered. It’s very hard to agree with the story you are telling us, if she fell on that there would be bruising.”

The court heard last week that no blood was found on the toy when it was examined by an expert. The woman today told the court that there was “a little” blood on the toy after the alleged incident but that she cleaned it. 

No bruising 

The court heard that the woman said she could not explain why there was no bruising on her daughter but could “assure” gardaí that FGM had not been carried out, despite what doctors who examined the girl had stated.

When gardaí told the woman that FGM is an offence, as is withholding information about a person who carried it out, the woman replied: “I am not lying to you, I have no reason to hide any person. FGM was not carried out on my daughter.”

Inspector Daniel Kelly confirmed to the court that gardaí sent a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after conducting the interviews. Kelly, who was a sergeant at the time, arrested both of the accused on 21 December 2017 and they were charged with FGM as well as neglect.

Medical professionals examined the girl a number of times in September and December 2016 at OLCHC. They noted that her clitoral head was missing and concluded that FGM had occurred, the court was told.

Kelly confirmed that he travelled to London to deliver DVDs of the examinations to Dr Deborah Hodes and Ms Sarah Creighton, two FGM experts. They viewed the DVDs and also concluded that FGM Type 1 – partial or total removal of the clitoris – had occurred, the court heard.

Hodes will give evidence at the trial tomorrow.

Previous evidence

The State is not arguing that the couple carried out FGM on their daughter, rather that they “intended to aid, abet, counsel or procure” the procedure, prosecuting counsel Shane Costelloe told the court last week.

The young girl was triaged at OLCHC on 16 September 2016 and brought to the emergency room, the court heard.

A paediatric surgeon, Professor Thambipillai Sri Paran, carried out a procedure to stop the bleeding. Paran, who gave evidence last Wednesday, believed that the injury the girl sustained was non-accidental. The head of her clitoris had been removed.

The case was referred to gardaí, who began to investigate, the court was told.

The toy the girl is alleged to have fallen on has been shown in court on a number of occasions. It is an activity centre with a steering wheel and other protruding objects.

Paran said the girl’s injuries were not consistent with falling on a toy.

Paran last week told Costelloe that after the surgery was carried out, he spoke to the girl’s father about how she was injured. Paran said the father told him the girl had a dirty nappy and that her mother brought her into the bathroom in the family home to change her.

“[She] was coming out of the bathroom without a nappy on and something happened and while she was moving backwards she fell onto a toy and sustained the injury,” Paran said, giving his account of his conversation with the girl’s father.

Paran said that, at a “much later stage”, he saw the toy in question at a meeting with other medical consultants and gardaí.

“The story didn’t match the injury that I saw,” Paran said, stating: “I felt that this is not a crush injury, if you fall onto something it will crush.” Tissue would typically hang loose if it was crushed and this was not the case in this instance, he told the court.

When being questioned by defence solicitors, Paran said: “When the story and the injury doesn’t tally, we know we are legally obliged to raise the alarm.”

Blood on carpet 

On Thursday, the jury heard that blood was found on a carpet in the couple’s home in the days after the alleged incident.

Dr John Hoade, a DNA expert with Forensic Science Ireland, told the court he accompanied gardaí during a search of the couple’s home on 23 September 2016. He requested that samples of carpet and underlay be removed from one of the rooms as there were stains on it.

Hoade confirmed that when he later tested one of the pieces of carpet, the blood stains matched the DNA of the girl who was injured. Photos of the carpet were shown in court.

Reading from a statement he wrote after testing the blood, he said: “The DNA provided from the sample of blood on the underlay matched that of [the girl].”

“I estimate the chance of finding this profile, if the DNA had come from someone unrelated to [her], is considerably less than one in 1,000 million (one billion).”

FGM has been outlawed in Ireland since 2012 but no one has been convicted to date. The offence, on conviction, carries a sentence of up to 14 years.

The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 lists FGM as “any act the purpose of which, or the effect of which, is the excision, infibulation or other mutilation of the whole or any part of the labia majora, labia minora, prepuce of the clitoris, clitoris or vagina of a girl or woman”.

The trial continues before Judge Sheahan and a jury of eight men and four women.

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Órla Ryan

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