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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C File photo

Ireland's first FGM conviction: Father sentenced to 5.5 years, mother sentenced to 4 years and 9 months

Judge Elma Sheahan described the parents’ actions as “the most egregious breaches of trust by those who are presumed to protect their infant child”.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 27th 2020, 1:15 PM

THE PARENTS OF a young girl who is deemed to have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) have today been jailed after being found guilty last year following a trial.

On 28 November, a jury at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court unanimously found the married couple guilty of FGM and of a separate charge of neglect related to the same incident on 16 September 2016.

Judge Elma Sheahan today sentenced the girl’s father to five and a half years in prison for the FGM charge, and three years for the neglect charge. The sentences will run concurrently.

The girl’s mother was sentenced to four years and nine months years in prison for the FGM charge, and two years and nine months for the neglect charge. The sentences will also run concurrently.

The maximum sentence for an FGM conviction in Ireland is 14 years, while the neglect conviction has a maximum sentence of seven years.

Sentencing was adjourned until today at a hearing on 20 December so the judge could consider evidence related the case

The couple, who can’t be named for legal reasons, are the first people to be convicted of carrying out FGM in Ireland. The practice, which refers to the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, has been outlawed here since 2012.

The State did not argue that the couple carried out FGM on their daughter themselves, rather that “aided and abetted, counselled or procured FGM” to take place.

The couple had claimed their daughter, who was just under two years old at the time, sustained her injuries after falling onto a toy while not wearing a nappy at the family’s Dublin home. This version of events was disputed by three medical experts over the course of the trial.

‘Lack of insight and remorse’ 

Outlining her reasons for the sentences imposed, Judge Sheahan told the court she had to “take into consideration the nature of the offence”, describing it as “surgical intervention obviously neither medically warranted or justifiable upon [the girl] in a non-medical surrounding”.

She said this situation was “further compounded by the most egregious breaches of trust by those who are presumed to protect their infant child as opposed to put them in harm’s way”.

Judge Sheahan said the girl at the centre of the case has “healed well physically”, according to medical professionals, but she will likely experience long-term psychological effects from the “severe and invasive procedure”.

Sheahan said being subjected to FGM will have “a real impact on her quality of life in the future”, adding: “The true significance of what has occurred may not become apparent for years to come.”

Doctors found that part of the girl’s clitoris has been removed, consistent with FGM Type 1, when she presented at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin (OLCHC) in September 2016. 

The judge said, as the case was “the first of its kind” in Ireland, she looked at the sentences handed down for similar convictions in other jurisdictions. She noted that a mother found guilty of carrying out FGM on her daughter in the UK was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The maximum sentence in the UK for this conviction is also 14 years.

However, she noted that the details of the Irish case and the UK case were different – FGM Type 1 was carried out in Ireland while Type 2, partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), was carried out in the UK. She added that there are also “significant differences in terms of penal regime in the UK” and the requirement to serve up to 50% of the sentence before being considered for release. 

“The limited amount of prosecutions brought before the courts is acknowledged to be owing to the hidden nature of this offending, often carried out with the collusion of extended family members, which this court notes is not the case in this trial,” Sheahan stated.

She said, after examining the evidence presented to her, she deemed the offence to be in the ‘mid-range’ and said the appropriate headline sentence was seven years in prison for the FGM conviction and four years in prison for the neglect conviction.

However, she said mitigating factors also had to be taken into account. She said serving time in prison may be more difficult for both parties due to the nature of the offending involved and the fact they are not originally from Ireland.

Judge Sheahan said one of the “most significant” factors she had to consider was the fact both of the accused had pleaded not guilty. She said this had resulted in “lack of insight and lack of remorse”, something that “is a concern to the court”. She said, as a result of this, none of the sentences would be suspended. 

The judge said the mother was the primary caretaker of the couple’s three children, adding that she is “fully aware of the effect of her imprisonment her on her children”.

The children of the accused are currently being cared for by their aunt, their mother’s sister, and Judge Sheahan noted that the appropriate services are “supportive of this and are overseeing it”. She said the children have remained in similar surroundings and the same crèche, and are “said to be well cared for and doing well”.

‘A strong and important message’ 

Speaking outside the court today, Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau noted that the conviction and sentence “represents the first of its kind in Ireland”.

“It sends a strong and important message that female genital mutilation, the mutilation of children and young girls, is not and will not be tolerated.

“Ireland has a long and proud history of embracing traditions and customs from abroad, however there can be no ‘welcome’ for any activity which brings harm to children,” Daly stated. 

He encouraged people to be “vigilant and aware of this crime” and urged anyone who suspects or believes a child is likely to be subjected to FGM, either in Ireland or by being brought outside the country, to contact their local garda station, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or call the Child Abuse Reporting Line on 1800 555 222.

‘Story didn’t match’

The man, aged in his 30s, and the woman, aged in her 20s, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. They are both originally from East Africa but have lived in Ireland for several years.

The woman is an Irish citizen but the man is the subject of a deportation order which is under appeal, the court was previously told.

Judge Sheahan last November ruled that both of the accused be remanded in custody. The State had objected to bail being granted.

The couple has three young children and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has been involved in the case since 2016.

The couple took their daughter to OLCHC on 16 September 2016 and asked for immediate assistance because she was bleeding.

The young girl had to undergo surgery to stop the bleeding, the court heard during the trial.

Professor Thambipillai Sri Paran, the paediatric surgeon who carried out the procedure, told the court in November he believed the injury the girl sustained was non-accidental. Part of the girl’s clitoris was missing, consistent with FGM Type 1, the court heard.

The toy the girl was alleged to have fallen on is an activity centre with a steering wheel and other protruding objects but no sharp edges, the court was told.

“The story didn’t match the injury that I saw,” Paran said during the trial, adding: “When the story and the injury doesn’t tally, we know we are legally obliged to raise the alarm.”

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