On March 30-31, 2022, a mother of seven appeared before the Assizes Court of Sarthe in west-central France for “complicity in violence against a minor under the age of 15 followed by mutilation or permanent disability”. Specifically, she is accused of having her three eldest daughters circumcised. However, this female genital mutilation is strictly forbidden and is punishable by fifteen years in prison in France – circumcision has also been forbidden in Djibouti since 1995. This trial is the first in France in ten years after that of Nevers, in 2012.
Excised in Djibouti
While the Nevers trial judged parents who had their little girls circumcised in precarious conditions, the 39-year-old woman, who was on trial at Le Mans, left her three eldest daughters in 2007 and 2013 while she was staying with her grandmother circumcise her home in France in Djibouti, her country of origin. The little ones are then 4, 5 and 7 years old.
In France, the eldest daughter, who is mentally handicapped, is cared for in a socio-educational centre. After returning from the trip the family made in Djibouti in 2013, she, who usually speaks little or not at all, explains to her educators that she “no darling, no zizi“By showing the genital area. His drawings depict children crying bloody tears.
Alarmed, the socio-educational team issues “concerning information” according to the reporting procedure. This leads to a medical examination confirming that the young girl and her two sisters have undergone genital mutilation. “This time, and this is not always the case, the judge in charge went as far as a jury trial‘ notes Isabelle Gillette-Faye.
An exemplary process
The sociologist, director of the National Association GAMS (Group for the Elimination of Sexual Mutilation, Forced Marriage and Other Traditional Practices Affecting Women’s and Children’s Health), took part in part of the process as an expert commissioned by one of his aware judiciary educational role. She comes to explain the pros and cons of excision and to put into context the facts raised against the mother of the family. “I was there to enlighten people, jurors or witnesses, who are not used to dealing with this kind of business.she explains, thereby emphasizing the attitude of the stakeholders: “very attentive and eager to do well, to understand without judging. How can a mother do this to her daughters? Why do the girls themselves continue to trivialize an act that could and can have dramatic consequences?“
The defendant seems to have understood the prohibition, but not why.
Isabelle Gillette-Faye, sociologist
The accused humiliated in their good faith
Isabelle Gillette-Faye found the mother”very dignified who says he understands that excision is forbidden by law.” The sociologist has a different decoding of the accused’s thoughts: “I think she remains convinced that it’s a religious necessity (the mother is of Muslim faith, editor’s note) and that she doesn’t understand why we stop her“Nevertheless, the mother of the family has had four more children since 2015.”She didn’t touch any of them, neither girls nor boys. So she seems to have understood the prohibition, but not the why,‘ analyzes Isabelle Gillette-Faye.
Throughout the process, Isabelle Gillette-Faye, the mother of the three circumcised young women, testifies that the infibulation she herself suffered in childhood (total or near-total excision, ie female genital mutilation type 3) had no adverse consequences on her life as a woman: “She assures that her sexuality has remained perfect, that her births have gone very well‘ said the sociologist.
In addition, the defendant argues that she had a nurse come to her home so that her daughters could be circumcised under the best hygienic conditions and that their circumcisions were relatively gentle – female genital mutilation type 1.She thinks she behaved like a good Djiboutian mother and doesn’t understand why the sky is falling on her head.”
In fact, the defendant broke down in tears at the hearing of the verdict. Given what she saw of the defendant and read in her eyes, Isabelle Gillette-Faye is surprised: “It is extremely rare for this type of woman to express her feelings so intimately in public. It says a lot about the humiliation she felt at being convicted of an act she considers normal.The shame is all the more bitter for the mother of the family as she is now to be placed under surveillance to prevent her from touching her youngest children and that socio-educational surveillance is likely to be imposed on the elders.
victim in denial
The girls, the victims, did not attend the trial. The oldest, disabled, must be preserved. As for the two youngestThey totally deny what happened to them“, explains Isabelle Gillette-Faye. They consider this process an injustice to their mother and speak of their circumcisions as something normal. They did everything to make her mother feel guilty, so she wouldn’t be judged.”refusal is a fairly normal reaction for children who are victims of violence and abuse‘ the sociologist emphasizes.
And the fathers?
According to the defendant, the victim’s father, who has since died, had no knowledge of the procedures his three daughters had suffered during their stay in Djibouti. Certainly, according to Isabelle Gillette-Faye, he was certainly not present, but he had to be aware: “These interventions had to be paid for. Especially since in Djibouti the dowry is very high and the only way for a father to monetize his daughters to a Djibouti for a sum as high as he himself had to pay for his wife was for them before marriage were circumcised.”
The shockwave of the trial will remind everyone that France, like Djibouti, bans excision.
Isabelle Gillette Faye
A Djiboutian family convicted
In the eyes of Isabelle Gillette-Faye, the origin of the defendants 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 from East Africa who have not received the awareness of female genital mutilation experienced by migrants from West Africa. “This judgment is an excellent memorythe sociologist assures especially as 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, bans female circumcision.”
If it has a repressive dimension, the Le Mans test also has an educational value, stresses Isabelle Gillette-Faye: “I hope this will save several children, in this region and across France, even in Djibouti.. If families don’t understand them, they will at least wonder about the prohibition of excision and the risks involved before ignoring them.