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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK

World: Africa

Ghanaian wins female circumcision case

Many women and children in Africa still face female circumcision

An appeal court in New York has ruled in favour of a Ghanaian woman fighting deportation on the grounds that she feared female circumcision if she returned home.

The court said the fears of the woman, Adelaide Abankwah, aged 29, were grounded in reality, and she should be granted asylum in the United States.

Miss Abankwah, who was chosen through heredity as the queen mother of her tribe in Ghana, fled after being threatened with genital circumcision because she had sex with a boyfriend and refused to undergo an arranged marriage.

The court said although female circumcision had been outlawed for five years in Ghana, the number of prosecutions of those who carried it out had been insignificant.

The court heard there had been only seven arrests for the crime since 1994.

In detention

The ruling reverses a decision by the immigration courts that Miss Abankwah was not eligible for asylum.

She has been held in detention since she arrived in the United States in March 1997.

After her mother died in 1996, Miss Abankwah was chosen by tribe elders to become the next queen mother.

However, she turned down the position and refused to perform rituals intended to determine if she was a virgin or enter into an arranged marriage.

She fled Ghana when genital circumcision was threatened as a punishment.

'Genital mutilation'

Many human rights and health activists believe that female circumcision endangers the lives of women and increases dangers in childbirth.

Critics say the term female circumcision is misleading.

They point out male circumcision is a fairly straightforward and safe operation and say the female equivalent should be described as genital mutilation.

The operation comes in three forms:

  • The removal of the tip of the clitoris
  • The removal of the entire clitoris and labia
  • Infibulation, which leaves women with only a tiny passage to pass water through

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