Portugal: A first FGM sentence is suspended after appeal

The court took into consideration the specific situation of the woman

In 2021, a 21 year old woman was found guilty in Portugal for having had her young daughter undergo FGM type IV on a trip to Guinea Bissau in 2019. At the time of the the girl was 1 year and a half. The woman was initially sentenced to three years imprisonment. However, she and her lawyer appealed the sentencing.

After the trial, the European End FGM Network published a statement highlighting the disproportion of the 3 year sentence of a woman who only 19 years old at the time of the crime and who is herself a surviver of FGM. The content of the statement served as the basis for the defense attorney’s allegations, providing a very strong rationale that is even reflected in the speech of the final judgment.

The Judges wanted to send a zero-tolerance signal with an exemplary first conviction which would have a dissuasive effect on other cases in the future. However, while the effective implementation of laws is an important part of ending FGM, it is not enough. Prosecution doesn’t equal protection for girls and women subjected to cutting. A conviction means a case in which FGM hasn’t been prevented. These harsh convictions, disregarding the context behind the practice, may in fact act as a deterrent for Survivors and women and girls at risk of FGM to come forward, making them fear the prosecution of their family and community.”
End FGM EU Network, Statement (End FGM, 22/02/2021)

In July 2021, the Court of Appeal of Lisbon gave reason to the appeal and suspended the prison sentence based on the best interest of the child.  According to the judge: “The effective fulfillment of the sentence of three years in prison by the defendant would not fail to represent a new punishment for her young daughter, already weakened by the suffering inflicted on her, and in need of her mother for her growth ”. (quoted in Público, 16/07/2021, our translation)

The court took into consideration the specific situation of the woman, including her young age, the fact that she is a migrant living in Portugal, that she has no prior criminal record, her living conditions as well as the fact that as a young woman living with her family she was “unable to overcome the pressure exerted by her family, finding herself in a context of great vulnerability, unable to resist imposed social norms”. (Público, 16/07/2021, our translation)


A member’s reflection on the first judgment in Portugal on FGM

A CoP member FGM shared the following insight into how this case was perceived and addressed by Portugese NGOs:

“Faced with the news of the conviction of a young mother to three years in prison after her young child underwent FGM , there was an embarrassing feeling in the associations that work on this issue, resulting from the heavy sentence decided by the court.

Gradually, other information about the case was revealed, which was not in the news, such as the fact that the young woman was called by the Health Center because there were signs that she was not taking good care of the child and in that contact with the health professionals, the theme of FGM was never addressed.

On the other hand, we also had the feeling that the young woman had said in court that she had not been subjected to the practice. Only when her mother comes to testify is it clarified that yes, the young woman had been subjected to the cut as a child. In other words, we were facing a young woman who was unaware of her body and perhaps of FGM. On the other hand, she grew up in an environment where the secrets about this topic persist, making her very fragile when faced with the importance of taking a stand or even opposing her family, especially in the circumstances of a trip she took alone with her daughter.

Civil society organizations understood that some mobilization was needed around this case because:

  • This is a young woman (who became a mother at age 17) who takes care of her child alone
  • Has little education
  • She is a young woman who is also a survivor of the practice and therefore it is possible to have assimilated behaviors of subjection to the family and society
  • The health services may have failed to manage this case because the pregnancy and postpartum period were monitored in these services without having addressed the issue of FGM
  • This young woman finds herself in the position of many intersections of vulnerability that need to be uncovered.

Civil society organizations mobilized, approaching this young woman to better understand the reality and provide technical support to the defense attorney in drafting the appeal. This event raised a debate on the importance of training magistrates on cultural realities while understanding the importance of the law and its enforcement and the role of civil society in this framework.”

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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