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File photo of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin. Leah Farrell/

Parents convicted of 'extremely serious offence' of FGM to be sentenced next month

Female genital mutilation carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

A MARRIED COUPLE who were previously convicted of allowing female genital mutilation (FGM) to be carried out on their daughter will be sentenced next month.

At a sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, Judge Elma Sheahan postponed sentencing until 27 January so she can consider evidence in the case.

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

FGM, upon conviction, carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The cruelty charge carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

The couple, who can’t be named for legal reasons, are the first people to be convicted of carrying out FGM in Ireland. The man, aged in his 30s, and the woman, aged in her 20s, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

FGM, which refers to the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, has been illegal here since 2012.

The couple are both originally from East Africa but have lived in Ireland for several years and the woman is an Irish citizen. The male accused is the subject of a deportation order which is under appeal.

They 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 in September 2016.

This version of events was disputed by three medical experts over the course of the trial.

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

‘Extremely serious offence’ 

Colman Fitzgerald SC, who is defending the male accused, today noted that FGM is an “extremely serious offence” but stated: “In all other respects [my client] has been a good, loving and caring father to all the children, including [the girl in question].”

Fitzgerald said his client being convicted of this offence “stands in contrast to everything else that is known about his treatment of his daughter”.

Fitzgerald noted that the kind of FGM carried out on the young girl, Type 1 (where some of all of the clitoris is removed), is “a serious offence” but not as serious as FGM Type 2 or FGM Type 3, and asked the judge to take this into account when sentencing.

He requested that his client be sentenced in respect of FGM, the “more serious” charge, but added that, if two sentences are handed down, they should be concurrent.

Patrick Gageby SC, who is representing the female accused, said his client has “no criminal background” and is the mother to “three very young children”.

Gageby said he is “mindful of the fact this appears to be the first [FGM] conviction under the statute” and “mindful of the three young children to whom [my client] is a mother”.

He described his client as “the anchor of this small family” and appealed for the court to be lenient if possible, particularly given the young children involved.

Long-term impact of FGM

Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting counsel, noted that “because of her age, [the girl] herself isn’t in a position to provide a victim impact statement”.

He said Dr Deborah Hodes, an FGM expert based in the UK who gave evidence during the trial, has written a report on the long-term implications of the type of FGM carried out on the girl. This has been given to the judge to consider.

Costelloe said the report notes that “because of the nature of the type of FGM performed on [the girl], there will be no physical effect on her urinary system, there will be no obstruction to her vagina”.

He added that when the girl is older she is not expected to experience menstrual problems or difficulties having sex – both common side effects after FGM – bar some caveats which the report explains in more detail.

‘Story didn’t match’

The couple took their daughter to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin (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, last month told the court 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 last month, adding: “When the story and the injury doesn’t tally, we know we are legally obliged to raise the alarm.”

During the trial last month, the court heard that Hodes viewed DVD footage of three examinations carried out on the girl at OLCHC in September and December 2016.

Describing what she saw on the first DVD – footage recorded during the surgery carried out by Sri Paran – Hodes told the court last month: “There was a raw bleeding area where I would have expected to see the clitoris.”

She noted that the view was “obscured somewhat by blood” but that she “couldn’t see the clitoral head”. “You would expect to see the clitoris and the clitoral hood, but I didn’t see this, I saw lots of blood,” Hodes said. 

Another DVD contained footage of a colposcopy examination carried out by Dr Sinéad Harty, a consultant paediatrician at OLCHC, on 19 September 2016.

“It showed a swollen [clitoral] hood but much less than previously, three days earlier,” Hodes told the court. She noted that “there was a raw area again where one would expect to see the clitoris”.

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

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

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