Ireland’s First Case Prosecuting and Convicting Female Genital Mutilation

By Aoife Lawlor

*Content warning for violence against women, child cruelty, and genital mutilation*

IRLI's Tanzania programme is aimed at providing access to justice to victims of child sexual abuse - building on Ireland's experience of investigating and prosecuting such matters. While Ireland has general expertise in CSA matters, this is not the case for FGM, a practice which is more common in Tanzania. IRLI is monitoring the most recent developments in this Irish case. 

The practice of FGM has been illegal in Ireland since 2012, with the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act. Under this Act, the penalty for performing or aiding the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a maximum fine of €10,000 or maximum imprisonment for 14 years, or both.[1] This Act also made it an offence for people to arrange for women or children to travel to countries outside of Ireland to undergo FGM.[2]

The first people to be convicted of FGM in the Republic of Ireland were convicted in January 2020.[3] The two defendants in this case were a married couple, who were accused of practicing FGM on their one year old daughter in 2016.[4] These accusations were raised after the victim’s father brought her to the hospital with persistent bleeding.[5] He then claimed that the victim had cut herself after falling backwards onto a toy.[6] However, medical professionals did not find this story credible as the injury did not appear to be accidental, nor did it appear to be consistent with falling backwards onto a toy.[7] According to Dr. Sinead Harty, the head and glans of the victim’s clitoris had been completely removed,[8] which is consistent with Type 1 FGM.[9] Dr. Deborah Hodes, a consultant community paediatrician, who helped to establish the first FGM clinic for young women in the United Kingdom, presented a report to the court outlining the long-term effects of this particular form of FGM upon the victim.[10]

During the trial, both parents denied one count of practicing FGM on their child, and one count of child cruelty.[11]They were found guilty of both counts on the eighth day of the trial.[12]The victim’s father was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for FGM, and three years for child cruelty; and the victim’s mother was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for FGM, and two years and nine months for child cruelty.[13] When making her decision regarding the sentences, Judge Sheahan considered similar cases in other jurisdictions, such as the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom (UK).[14] In the UK, the practice of FGM has been illegal since the introduction of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act in 1985. This Act was subsequently repealed, and the Female Genital Mutilation Act was established in its place in 2003. In 2005, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act broadened the scope of the law in regards to FGM, and made it an offence for citizens and residents of the UK to travel to countries outside of the UK and perform FGM, or arrange for women and children to undergo FGM in countries outside of the UK, regardless of the legality of FGM within these countries.[15]

When considering the sentencing of the defendants in the Irish case, Judge Sheahan examined the case of the first person to be convicted of FGM in the UK (England and Wales) in 2019.[16] The two defendants in this case were a couple, who were accused of practicing FGM on the three year old victim.[17] Similar to the Irish case, these accusations were raised after the mother of the victim had brought her daughter to a hospital with her partner.[18] While the couple attempted to claim that the victim had cut herself on the edge of a kitchen cupboard, it was concluded by medical professionals that her injuries were not consistent with such an incident.[19] Though her partner was acquitted of the charges of practicing or aiding FGM on the victim, the victim’s mother was found to be guilty.[20] She was subsequently convicted and jailed for eleven years, with a further sentence of two years for possession of indecent images and child pornography.[21] When considering the sentences for the defendants in the Irish case, Judge Sheahan also examined the differences between the types of FGM which were performed on the victims; in the Irish case, the victim suffered Type 1 FGM, whereas in the English and Welsh case the victim suffered Type 2 FGM, which consists of partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the inner folds of the vulva.[22] Judge Sheahan also took the personal circumstances of the defendants into consideration, as well the fact that both of the defendants displayed a lack of remorse or understanding of their actions by claiming that they were not guilty on all counts.[23]

This is a landmark case, as it is the first conviction of FGM in the Republic of Ireland. Thus, this case will set a precedent regarding the prosecution and conviction of FGM within Ireland. Furthermore, the case has raised awareness of FGM in Ireland, and the existing legislation regarding this form of gender-based violence. Hopefully, this awareness and precedent will serve to prevent future cases of FGM, as in 2017, the charity AkiDwA, estimated that approximately 5,790 people had undergone FGM in Ireland.[24]

The two defendants in the Irish case have recently requested that their now five year old daughter be re-examined to establish whether a FGM procedure was performed on the victim.[25] The defence for the couple have applied to the Court of Appeal for a ‘directions hearing’ in which they will request that the court consider an order for the re-examination to proceed.[26] At a brief hearing regarding this application, Justice Birmingham stated that there were disagreements among medical professionals regarding whether the victim was forced to undergo FGM or not.[27] The barristers representing the appellants in this case argue that the defence’s reliance on photographs and videos of FGM in the first case cast doubts on whether the victim underwent FGM.[28]

Footnotes:

[1] Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012

[2] Ibid

[3] ‘Parents jailed over female genital mutilation of daughter’ The Irish Times (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/parents-jailed-over-female-genital-mutilation-of-daughter-1.4152765> accessed 20 April 2021; Eoin Reynolds, ‘Parents jailed for subjecting child to female genital mutilation ‘want girl re-examined’ to assess if procedure happened’ The Independent (Dublin, 23 March 2021) <https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/parents-jailed-for-subjecting-child-to-female-genital-mutilation-want-girl-re-examined-to-assess-ifprocedure-happened-40225083.html> accessed 20 April 2021

[4] Ibid; ibid

[5] Ibid; ibid

[6] Ibid; ibid

[7] Ibid; ibid

[8] ‘Parents jailed over female genital mutilation of daughter’ The Irish Times (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/parents-jailed-over-female-genital-mutilation-of-daughter-1.4152765> accessed 20 April 2021

[9] Órla Ryan, ‘Ireland’s first FGM conviction: Father sentenced to 5.5 years, mother sentenced to 4 years and 9 months’ The Journal (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.thejournal.ie/fgm-trial-sentencing-ireland-4975318-Jan2020/> accessed 20 April 2021

[10] ‘Parents jailed over female genital mutilation of daughter’ The Irish Times (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/parents-jailed-over-female-genital-mutilation-of-daughter-1.4152765> accessed 20 April 2021

[11] ‘Parents jailed over female genital mutilation of daughter’ The Irish Times (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/parents-jailed-over-female-genital-mutilation-of-daughter-1.4152765> accessed 20 April 2021; Eoin Reynolds, ‘Parents jailed for subjecting child to female genital mutilation ‘want girl re-examined’ to assess if procedure happened’ The Independent (Dublin, 23 March 2021) <https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/parents-jailed-for-subjecting-child-to-female-genital-mutilation-want-girl-re-examined-to-assess-ifprocedure-happened-40225083.html> accessed 20 April 2021

[12] Ibid; Ibid

[13] Órla Ryan, ‘Ireland’s first FGM conviction: Father sentenced to 5.5 years, mother sentenced to 4 years and 9 months’ The Journal (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.thejournal.ie/fgm-trial-sentencing-ireland-4975318-Jan2020/> accessed 20 April 2021

[14] Ibid

[15] Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005

[16] ‘FGM: Mother guilty of genital mutilation of daughter’ BBC News (London, 1 February 2019) <https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-47094707> accessed 20 April 2020; Sarah Marsh, ‘Mother jailed for 11 years in first British FGM conviction’ The Guardian (8 March 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/08/mother-of-three-year-old-is-first-in-uk-to-be-convicted-of-fgm> accessed 20 April 2020

[17] Sarah Marsh, ‘Mother jailed for 11 years in first British FGM conviction’ The Guardian (8 March 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/08/mother-of-three-year-old-is-first-in-uk-to-be-convicted-of-fgm> accessed 20 April 2020

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] ‘FGM: Mother guilty of genital mutilation of daughter’ BBC News (London, 1 February 2019) <https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-47094707> accessed 20 April 2020

[21] Sarah Marsh, ‘Mother jailed for 11 years in first British FGM conviction’ The Guardian (8 March 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/08/mother-of-three-year-old-is-first-in-uk-to-be-convicted-of-fgm> accessed 20 April 2020

[22] Órla Ryan, ‘Ireland’s first FGM conviction: Father sentenced to 5.5 years, mother sentenced to 4 years and 9 months’ The Journal (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.thejournal.ie/fgm-trial-sentencing-ireland-4975318-Jan2020/> accessed 20 April 2021

[23] Órla Ryan, ‘Ireland’s first FGM conviction: Father sentenced to 5.5 years, mother sentenced to 4 years and 9 months’ The Journal (Dublin, 27 January 2020) <https://www.thejournal.ie/fgm-trial-sentencing-ireland-4975318-Jan2020/> accessed 20 April 2021

[24] AkiDwA, ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (AkiDwA) <https://akidwa.ie/female-genital-mutilation/> accessed 20 April 2021

[25] Eoin Reynolds, ‘Parents jailed for subjecting child to female genital mutilation ‘want girl re-examined’ to assess if procedure happened’ The Independent (Dublin, 23 March 2021) <https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/parents-jailed-for-subjecting-child-to-female-genital-mutilation-want-girl-re-examined-to-assess-ifprocedure-happened-40225083.html> accessed 20 April 2021

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid


Donate today!