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Monday, September 7, 2009

Trial opens in first Dutch genital cutting case

September 2, 2009 By Marcel Decraene A unique court case opens on Thursday in Haarlem: for the first time in the Netherlands, a man is on trial for female genital mutilation. A 30-year-old man of Moroccan origin is charged with mutilating his daughter. During a pro forma hearing earlier this year, the public prosecutor read the charges: “The accused is charged with wilfully and severely abusing his child. He is charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm on his daughter, Zoë, born in 2003, by cutting away the labia minora and the clitoris using scissors or another sharp implement.” The accused, Mustafa el M. (surname withheld for legal reasons) denies everything, including the charge that he repeatedly beat and bit the child in the face and on the arms. Islamic Dineke Korfker is a cultural anthropologist and midwife. She lived in Africa for 12 years and now works as a researcher on female genital mutilation for research organisation TNO in Leiden. Female genital mutilation, also referred to as female circumcision or genital cutting, is practised in countries that include Somalia, Sudan and Egypt. But not Morocco, the country in which the accused has his roots. Neither is it originally a Muslim practice, says Ms Korfker. “People often see it as being Islamic and think it’s prescribed by the religion, but the highest Islamic body, the Al-Azhar University in Egypt, has officially distanced itself from the practice and calls on people not to do it. It has taken a long time for them to dare to do so, but now they clearly distance themselves from it. In a country like Saudi Arabia, where you might expect it, it doesn’t occur at all; they don’t have the practice there.” Hidden Female genital mutilation is a criminal offence in the Netherlands, and it is outlawed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. But victims often remain hidden, because the cutting takes place in a closed family setting. Vanessa Penn is a policy advisor at the Dutch Child Protection Council, a department of the Justice Ministry, and a specialist in the field of female genital mutilation: “It isn’t often properly detected, so the Child Protection Council doesn’t deal with many cases. It’s estimated that around fifty girls a year undergo genital cutting, but not all of these cases are referred to the Child Protection Council and the practice is not reported to the police often enough – rarely or never. It’s a criminal offence and falls under abuse. It’s a deliberate injury to health and a form of abuse, and if parents are involved it’s an aggravating circumstance.” Mustafa M.’s defence lawyer sees the five-year-old daughter’s statement as highly questionable and has applied for a second opinion from a legal psychologist. The girl and her sister have been taken into care.