A London mother was found guilty of subjecting her 3-year-old daughter to female genital mutilation on Friday in Britain’s first conviction for FGM – more than 30 years after the practice was outlawed.
The Ugandan mother-of-two, who cannot be named for legal reasons, could face up to 14 years in jail.
Police and anti-FGM campaigners said the conviction would send a strong message that FGM is child abuse and will be prosecuted.
“It’s going to send a shockwave around the community. It’s a wake-up call. It will be a huge deterrent,” activist Hibo Wardere told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Justice Philippa Whipple adjourned sentencing until March.
Police launched an investigation after the girl’s parents rushed her to hospital on August 28, 2017, following severe bleeding and doctors found three cuts to her genitalia.
In the following months the mother performed dozens of witchcraft spells – two involving cows’ tongues with nails embedded in them – to try to silence investigators and the director of public prosecutions.
The jury took five hours to return the guilty verdict at London’s Central Criminal Court.
The girl’s Ghanaian father, who was also on trial, was acquitted of FGM and of failing to protect his daughter from the risk of FGM.
During the trial, the 37-year-old mother told the jury her daughter had hurt herself after falling while climbing on a kitchen worktop at their east London flat.
But the girl told police she had been cut by a “witch”. Her older brother later wrote a letter to police saying his mother had cut her.
Four doctors, including two leading FGM experts, said the cuts had been made with a sharp implement such as a scalpel and could not be explained by a fall.
The obstetrician who treated the girl told the court her injuries were like cases of botched FGM he had seen in his native Sudan.
An expert on FGM said the practice was not connected to witchcraft.
However, the jury heard that the mother had sought help from a “prophet” to “cleanse” her daughter, via an online contact in Nigeria.
Police and prosecutors in Britain have faced mounting pressure to secure a conviction for FGM, which was outlawed in 1985. Two previous trials ended in acquittals.
“FGM is child abuse. It is a crime,” said Detective Inspector Allen Davis, the police lead on FGM. “This sends out a very strong message … Ultimately, we want to stop this happening in the first place.”
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects diaspora communities from many countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.
The internationally condemned practice, which typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, can cause serious physical and psychological harm.
Campaigners say the ritual – often justified for cultural or religious reasons – is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality.
Britain’s national children’s charity described FGM as a “horrific practice” and called the conviction a “landmark victory”.
“We can only hope that the outcome of this case will now give others the strength and the courage to speak out about this violent form of child abuse,” said John Cameron of The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
World leaders have pledged to eradicate FGM which affects at least 200 million girls and women globally, according to UN data.