- The parents of five daughters of Gambian descent have been detained in Oslo, Norway, after a human rights group revealed all the girls had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. The youngest girl, aged five, has been taken away from parents, while the elder four are with family in The Gambia.
The detention marks the first time criminal charges are presented over FGM in Norway, a Northern European country that has adopted strict legislation and control mechanisms to root out the practice, which is mainly habitual among immigrants from Somalia and The Gambia.
The case was revealed by the Oslo-based group Human Rights Service (HRS), which on a 2005 trip to The Gambia followed up on four girls, born in Norway by Gambian parents, that had been placed in the Gambian home of the 41-year-old father's second wife in that country. The group suspected FGM had been executed on the girls. Both polygamy and FGM are criminal offences in Norway.
During the research in The Gambia, HRS was able to establish that the girls, carrying Norwegian passports, indeed had been mutilated according to Gambian traditional practices. The case was reported to Norwegian police and the Oslo Foreign Office tried to get the girls sent back to Norway. However, family and authorities in The Gambia did not want to cooperate, and the four girls remain in The Gambia.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the couple's youngest daughter, aged only five, has also been mutilated, probably while on a holiday trip to The Gambia. This caused Oslo police to take action, detaining the father and pressing criminal charges against him today. The mother, which currently is in her seventh pregnancy, was deemed too weak to be detained at this instance.
"Out of six daughters, five therefore have been mutilated," HRS said in a statement today. "However, the youngest daughter aged three is not mutilated." The group now hopes police will have enough evidence to produce Norway's first court sentence on an FGM case.
As consequence of the revealed FGM on the five-year-old, state Directorate for Children Affairs has now taken the two youngest daughters away from the parents, taking over care. It is assumed that the decision to relieve the parents of child care will be permanent, probably resulting in the placing of the two girls in a foster parent home. FGM is seen as a most serious child abuse case in Norway.
Further, Norwegian authorities have indicated they are now intensifying their work to have the three girls living in The Gambia - aged 10, 13 and 14 - sent back to Norway. "They are Norwegian citizens with Norwegian passports and we want them back home to Norway, where they earlier attended kindergarten and school," police officer Hanne Kristin Rohde told Norwegian state media.
Action against FGM in Norway has been focused on immigrant groups from Somalia and The Gambia. Both nationalities have brought the practice with them to their new homes in Europe and North America, non-regarding local legislation. The mutilation is normally executed while on holiday in their countries of origin. Only last year, large-scale "FGM tourism" to the Somaliland city of Hargeisa had been revealed.
In The Gambia, FGM is legal, despite government signing several international protocols outlawing the practice. Contrary to most other West African countries, Gambian authorities indeed actively encourage FGM, President Yaya Jammeh saying it is an essential part of Gambian culture. In 1997, President Jammeh on national media even threatened Gambian anti-FGM activists, banning public discussions on the issue. He said government could not guarantee their security and obtained the blessing of Muslim clerics across the country.
In neighbouring Senegal, with the same ethnic and cultural mix as in The Gambia, authorities and gender groups are successfully exterminating the practice, which is illegal. Here, also Muslim clerics support the FGM ban, branding it as an un-Islamic practice.
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