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Instruments of tortureImage: africa-photo

Courts Can Stop Female Circumcision of Immigrants

DW staff/AFP (sp)
January 28, 2005

German courts may curtail the rights of immigrant parents living in the country if that may prevent their daughters from genital mutilation, the federal administrative court ruled Thursday.


The federal administrative court in the southern city of Karlsruhe ruled on Thursday that a Gambian mother did not have the right to subject her six-year-old daughter to female circumcision or genital mutilation, rejecting the woman's appeal of a lower court ruling.

Bescheidung von Mädchen in Kenia
Catholic sister Dr. Ephigenia W. Gachiri (right) battles genital mutilation of girls in Africa. Mädchen.Image: africa-photo

The judges described the procedure, which typically involves cutting off the clitoris and other parts of genitalia in pre-pubescent and teenage girls, as a "cruel, grave form of abuse that is impossible to justify" and a clear violation of the welfare rights of the child.

Child protection versus cultural tradition

The case involved a Gambian-born woman who married a German man in Gambia in 2000 and brought her daughter from a previous relationship to Germany. The girl was to be sent back to the woman's extended family in Gambia in 2003 so that her mother could pursue a training course in nursing for the elderly.

However, days before the girl's departure, relatives of the German husband alerted child welfare authorities that the daughter could be threatened with genital mutilation.

The mother, who underwent female circumcision herself at the age of 13, had defended the ritual as a cultural tradition.

Dresden-based social worker Matthias Hirche, who is working on the case pointed out on Thursday that the federal administrative court had categorically rejected the mother's stance. "The court has awarded more importance to the protection of the child than parents' rights or culture and tradition," he said.

No travel abroad

Demonstration in Somalia gegen Genitalverstümmelung
Women's demonstration in Somalia against female circumcision.Image: dpa

The girl who was placed in foster care immediately following an emergency ruling by local child welfare authorities once the matter came to light, is now back with her mother. Her mother is now divorced from her German husband.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled that the girl would most likely be faced with genital mutilation if she was sent to her mother's family in Gambia. The judges said the fact that the girl's grandmother had been unable to spare her own daughter from the inhuman procedure raised worries that the grandmother, under the influence of the extended family, would be unable to prevent it from happening to her granddaughter.

Judges in Karlsruhe also made it clear on Thursday that the lower court in the eastern city of Dresden which issued the original ruling, and the local child welfare office must now act to ensure the child is not taken out of the country where she might be threatened with excision.

The court added that the girl could be taken from her mother and put in foster care again if necessary to protect her.

State authorities have also withheld her passport. "We have to ensure that the girl doesn't get sent to Africa or to France or Britain, where genital mutilation is secretly practiced," said Hirche. "But to monitor that will still be tough," he added.

Rampant practice

Genital mutilation is practiced in some 28 African countries, despite laws that outlaw it.

Dirie Waris mit Unicef Logo im Hintergrund
Top-Model Waris Dirie waits at a UNICEF press conference on human right for girls in Berlin, Nov. 7, 2002, while the press watches a video on female circumcision. Dirie is a strong advocate of the issue, which is especially problematic in Africa.Image: AP

The court found that between 80 and 90 percent of woman and girls in Gambia undergo excision, known in some countries as female circumcision.

An estimated 130 million women have been subjected to female circumcision and 2 million undergo the procedure each year, according to officials at a conference on female circumcision held in November 2003 in Sweden.

Excision impairs a woman's ability to enjoy sexual relations, and is traditionally seen as controlling female sexuality and improving a girl's marriage prospects.

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