LONDON • A London mother was found guilty on Friday of subjecting her three-year-old daughter to female genital mutilation (FGM), in Britain's first conviction for the offence - more than 30 years after the practice was outlawed.
The Ugandan mother of two, who cannot be named for legal reasons, could face up to 14 years in jail.
The police and anti-FGM campaigners said the conviction sent a strong message that FGM was child abuse and would be prosecuted.
"It's going to send a shock wave around the community. It's a wake-up call. It will be a huge deterrent," activist Hibo Wardere told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
British Interior Minister Sajid Javid welcomed the "landmark conviction". He tweeted: "(FGM) is a sickening, depraved form of child abuse and we will do all we can to ensure all perpetrators are brought to justice."
Justice Philippa Whipple adjourned sentencing until March 8.
Estimated number of women and girls in England and Wales who have undergone female genital mutilation, which affects diaspora communities from countries such as Somalia, Sierra Leone and Egypt.
The police launched an investigation after the girl's parents rushed her to hospital on Aug 28, 2017, following severe bleeding and doctors found three cuts to her genitalia.
In the following months, the mother performed dozens of witchcraft spells - two involving cows' tongues with nails embedded in them - to try to silence investigators and the director of public prosecutions.
The girl's Ghanaian father, who was also on trial, was acquitted of FGM and of failing to protect his daughter from the risk of FGM.
During the trial, the 37-year-old mother told London's Central Criminal Court that her daughter had hurt herself falling from a kitchen worktop at their East London flat.
'SICKENING AND DEPRAVED'
(Female genital mutilation) is a sickening, depraved form of child abuse and we will do all we can to ensure all perpetrators are brought to justice.
BRITISH INTERIOR MINISTER SAJID JAVID
But the girl told police she had been held down and cut by a "witch". Her older brother later wrote a letter to police saying his mother had cut her.
Four doctors, including two leading FGM experts, said the cuts had been made with a sharp implement such as a scalpel and could not be explained by a fall.
The obstetrician who treated the girl told the jury her injuries were similar to cases of botched FGM he had seen in his native Sudan.
The court heard that the mother turned to witchcraft to try to halt police investigations following her arrest. Aside from the cows' tongues, police found 40 limes in a freezer at her home containing the names of people involved in the case with messages such as "I freeze your mouth" and "I freeze you out of my life".
The mother, a former care worker, said she did not come from an ethnic group that practised FGM and no motive was given in court.
The police and prosecutors in Britain have faced mounting pressure to secure a conviction for FGM, which was outlawed in 1985. Two previous trials ended in acquittals.
Ms Lynette Woodrow of the Crown Prosecution Service said FGM had an "appalling physical and emotional impact".
Detective Inspector Allen Davis, the police lead on FGM, said the case showed that FGM was happening in Britain "behind a cloak of secrecy".
"We really need information from people in communities who know FGM is happening - which young people are at risk of, and who is doing the cutting," he added.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects diaspora communities from many countries, including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt. The internationally condemned practice typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia.