Parents charged in circumcision of daughter remain in custody

News  National Post (Don Mills, Ontario). Saturday, 16 February 2002.

Anne Marie Owens


11-year-old girl

An Ontario couple charged with having their 11-year-old daughter circumcised in their home are being held in custody while the court determines whether they should go free.

The court case may provide rare evidence the surgical procedure, which is illegal in Canada under laws on female genital mutilation but is still widely practised in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, is being conducted in Canada.

The identities of the parents, who live in St. Catharines, Ont., are not being released to protect the identity of the girl, now 13.

The mother, 42, and father, 47, are very distressed by the charges, said their lawyer, Keith Newell.

Police will not reveal the religious or cultural background of the family, since such specific information could possibly identify the girl in a community with as small a multi-cultural population as St. Catharines.

But the circumstances about this case are not surprising to those who work with immigrants from countries that favour female circumcision as a rite of passage for young women.

I feel so bad that this catastrophe would happen, because we could have prevented this, said Nadia Badr, founder of the Sudanese Women Association of Niagara.

She attempted to hold workshops and seminars over the past few years to educate women in her community about the risks of these procedures, but was stopped by a lack of funding.

It is not a surprise to me that this would happen, she said. Culturally, fathers and mothers think it's a good thing for their girls.... The parents have no idea it's wrong. They think it's protection for their daughter. That's why they're keen to do it, no matter what the cost.

She said she has heard of these circumcisions taking place underground, and suggests the practitioner involved in this case will likely be a woman from the family's ethnic community who learned in their homeland how to perform the surgery.

Malika Mounir, a settlement worker with the Multicultural Centre in St. Catharines, says it has been difficult to address the issue of female circumcision in a women's group for new immigrants because they are very reticent to talk about it.

This doesn't surprise me because some of these people don't even know that it is illegal in Canada, she said. We know that this goes on underground. This is something that a lot of these parents don't know they cannot do. They don't realize they can go to jail.

In this case, the parents are charged with aggravated assault for their role in arranging the surgical procedure.

Detective Sergeant James Mackay, head of the child abuse unit with the  External link Niagara Regional Police, said investigators are still trying to identify the practitioner responsible for the surgery.

The girl's parents appeared briefly in a St. Catharines courtroom yesterday, but their bail hearing was postponed until Monday.

The father has also been charged with assault with a weapon, for allegedly hitting the girl on the back with a belt several times over the past few years.

The charges stem from a two-month investigation by the child-abuse unit and the social-welfare agency in Niagara.

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