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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 00:34 GMT

World: Europe

Woman jailed for 48 circumcisions

Mali women enter the trial of ''Mama Greou''

A Malian woman has been jailed for eight years for circumcising 48 girls following a Paris trial which pitted French law against African tradition.

The BBC's Jennifer Chevalier reports from Paris: "An exceptional trial from beginning to end"
The court also convicted more than two dozen parents who took their girls to Hawa Greou for genital mutilation. Most received suspended prison terms.

The prosecution was the largest brought against the practice of female circumcision in France and the first to be tried by a woman, Judge Martine Varin.

It was also the first to be triggered by the complaint of a victim, Mariatou Koita, a French woman of Malian origin. Her mother, Cisse, who was one of the defendants, was jailed for two years.

[ image: The practice was outlawed in France in 1984]
The practice was outlawed in France in 1984
Ms Koita, 23, a law student in Paris, demanded to see a judge five years ago after Ms Greou went to her parents' flat to circumcise her younger sister.

She recognised Ms Greou as the woman who had circumcised her a decade earlier, when she was eight.

"My mother said she was taking us to have injections," she said. "But then I heard Sira [another sister] scream."

"There were several women. Two forced me to lie down, one held my legs, the other my arms. The third bent down and circumcised me.''

'The way my grandmother did it'

After Ms Koita filed her complaint, investigators identified dozens of girls between the ages of one month and 10 years who had been taken to "Mama Greou" for the operation.

[ image: Circumcision is often carried out with crude instruments]
Circumcision is often carried out with crude instruments
They also found razor-blades, creams and compresses at her home.

Ms Greou reportedly told police: "I do it the way my mother and my grandmother did it. I cut the clitoris, I take clean earth and I mould it into a charm that I place on the child's sex."

Her lawyer Jean Chavais did not contest the facts, but said circumcision was a deep-rooted African custom that the justice system was not well equipped to fight.

Ms Greou, who charged about $30 to $80 for each circumcision, apologized at the beginning of her trial.

"I am sorry if I caused any harm," she said. "It is a custom, I did not do it maliciously. Now I understand - now we must stop.''

Female circumcision became a crime in France in 1984, but it was not until 1991 that the first conviction was handed down.

The practice has been carried out on tens of millions of girls in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

But the procedure has been banned in several African nations including Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ghana and Togo.

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