Trial of female circumcision: a mother sentenced

The court has decided: the law takes precedence over tradition.

TV5 Monde (05.04.2022) – Jurors and magistrates have decided: the law takes precedence over tradition. In Le Mans, a mother was given a five-year suspended sentence for circumcising her three eldest daughters during trips to Djibouti. Sociologist Isabelle Gillette-Faye, a specialist in excision, sheds light on the issues of this trial.


On March 30 and 31, 2022, a mother of seven children appeared before the Assize Court of Sarthe, in west-central France, for “complicity in violence against minors under the age of 15 followed by mutilation or permanent infirmity”. In concrete terms, she is accused of having her three eldest daughters undergo excision. However, this female mutilation is strictly prohibited and punishable, in France, by fifteen years of imprisonment – in Djibouti too, excision has been prohibited since 1995. This trial is the first in ten years in France after that of Nevers in 2012.

Excised in Djibouti

If Nevers’ trial tried parents who had excised their girls in precarious conditions, at their home in France, the 39-year-old woman tried in Le Mans had her three eldest daughters excised in 2007 and 2013, during stays with their grandmother in Djibouti, her country of origin. The little ones were then 4, 5 and 7 years old.

In France, the eldest girl, who has a mental disability, is followed in a socio-educational center. Upon her return from the trip to Djibouti undertaken by the family in 2013, she explained to her educators that she has “no darling, no zizizi” by showing the genital area. His drawings depict children crying tears of blood.

Alerted, the socio-educational team issued a “notice of concern”, in accordance with the reporting procedure. This resulted in a medical examination that confirmed the girl and her two sisters had undergone genital mutilation. “This time, and this is not always the case, the magistrate in charge of the case went to the end, to the trial in assizes,” noted Isabelle Gillette-Faye.

An exemplary trial

The sociologist, who is the Director of the National Federation GAMS (Group for the Abolition of Sexual Mutilation, Forced Marriage and other traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children), attended part of the trial as an expert witness, at the request of the court. She explained the ins and outs of an excision and contextualized the facts committed by the mother. “I was there to shed light on people, jurors or assessors, who are not used to being confronted with this kind of case,” she explained, stressing the attitude of stakeholders: “very attentive and eager to do well, to understand without judging. How can a mother do this to her daughters? Why do girls themselves continue to trivialize an act that could, and can still have had dramatic consequences?”

The accused humiliated in her good faith

Isabelle Gillette-Faye, found the mother “very worthy, who says she understood that excision is prohibited by law.” The sociologist has another deciphering of the accused’s thought: “I believe that she remains convinced that it is a religious necessity (Editor’s note: the mother is Muslim) and that she does not understand why she is prevented from doing so.” However, since 2015, the mother has had four other children. “She didn’t touch any of them, girls and boys. So she seems to have understood the ban, but not the why,” analyzes Isabelle Gillette-Faye.

“Throughout the trial,” said Isabelle Gillette-Faye, “the mother of the three young excised women wanted to convince that the infibulation she herself suffered in her childhood (total or almost total excision, female genital mutilation type 3) did not have any harmful consequences on her life as a woman”: “She assures that her sexuality remained perfect, that her deliveries went very well,” reported the sociologist.

In addition, the accused argued that she brought a nurse home so that her daughters’ excisions take place in the best hygienic conditions and that their excisions were relatively minimally invasive – female genital mutilation type 1. “She thinks she behaved like a good Djiboutian mother and does not understand why the sky falls on her head.

In fact, when the verdict was read, the accused collapsed into tears. Surprised by this reaction, Isabelle Gillette-Faye said: “It is extremely rare that this kind of woman expresses her emotions in public so intimately. This says a lot about the humiliation she felt for being convicted for an act she considers normal.” Disgrace is all the more cunchy for the mother as she will now be under surveillance to dissuade her from touching her youngest children and that socio-educational follow-up will probably be imposed on her older children.

Victims in denial

The girls, the victims, did not attend the trial. The older one, disabled, must remain under protection. As for the two younger ones, “they are in total denial of what happened to them,” explained Isabelle Gillette-Faye. They consider that this trial of their mother was wrong and spoke of their excisions as something normal. They did everything to exonerate their mother, so that she was not convicted. “Denial is a fairly classic reaction for children who are victims of violence and abuse,” said the sociologist.

What about the fathers?

The late father of the victims was, according to the accused, not aware of the intervention suffered by his three daughters during their stay in Djibouti. He was certainly not present, according to Isabelle Gillette-Faye, but he must have been aware of it: “We had to pay for these interventions. Especially since in Djibouti, dowries are very high, and the only way for a father to monetize his daughters to a Djiboutian for an amount as high as he himself had to pay for his wife was that they be excised before marriage.”

A Djiboutian family condemned

In the eyes of Isabelle Gillette-Faye, the origin of the accused is an important point in this Le Mans trial, because it is the first time that a Djiboutian family has been convicted.

However, France is facing the arrival of populations in East Africa who have not been made aware of the ban of female genital mutilation unlike West African migrants. “This verdict is an excellent reminder,” said the sociologist, “especially since the Djiboutian community is relatively large in the Le Mans region, and the shock wave of the trial will remind everyone that France, like Djibouti, prohibits female circumcision.”

Also read in Earthlings:

► United Kingdom: historic condemnation of a mother for excising her daughter
► “Minimum” excisions proposed by two American gynecologists
► How to fight excision despite the Covid pandemic?
► In Kenya, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has been campaigning against female circumcision since the age of 8
► Covid-19: 2 million more excisions are to be feared within 10 years
► Confinement and after Covid-19: the risk of excision on the rise, associations give the alert
► Female genital mutilation: Sudan criminalizes female circumcision
► World Day Against Excision: for Jaha Dukureh, “Laws are not enough”
► Deadly excision in Egypt: parents of a little girl arrested

► In Senegal, the fight against excision requires patience, one village after another
► Fara Djiba Kamano: “men must promote the abandonment of female circumcision”
► “I Cut”: in Kenya, high school girls invent an anti-excision application

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