AUSTRALIA: Court Bars Father From Taking Daughter Female Circumcision

THE Family Court has for the first time intervened to prevent a father from taking his nine-year-old daughter back to Africa to have her circumcised.

Family Court judge Paul Cronin ordered the man, who is an Australian citizen of African descent, to surrender his passport and that of his daughter.

Justice Cronin banned the father from "removing or attempting to remove the child, born in March 1999, from the commonwealth of Australia".

It is not clear whether the order was successful, since the man, known only as Mr Abbas, failed to appear in court.

Female circumcision, also known as genital mutilation, has been a crime in most Australian states since the late 1990s.

The law makes it clear that it is an offence not only to circumcise one's own daughter, or any other female child, but also to encourage or enable any other person to do it; or to leave the country for the purpose of having it done.

The practice is commonplace in some parts of Africa, in particular Somalia.

Justice Cronin said the father had told his former wife that he intended to return to Africa, which is "not where the child was born, but she is shown as having an African nationality".

He said the father "wishes to return to Africa for the purposes of female circumcision".

The judge said he would prevent the father from leaving Australia "just in case the purpose that I have mentioned is in fact what he has in mind".

He also gave the Department of Human Services in Victoria power to visit the man's home to ensure the girl's welfare.

The case was the first in which the Family Court had placed a child on the airport Watch List specifically to prevent her removal from Australia for circumcision, but the second in which it expressly forbade a parent from circumcising their daughter. In the first case, known as Wadmal and Amrita, Family Court judge Sally Brown ordered both parents be "restrained from visiting upon the child the act of circumcision, or any other surgical procedure with like effect, and allowing any other person to do so".

The father, who described himself in court documents as a "respectable Muslim scholar in the Muslim community", and the mother, who was of Turkish origin, were divorced under Islamic law, and each accused the other of wanting the girl circumcised.

The mother told the court that in June 2007, she received a visit from the Department of Human Services workers who said they had been told she intended to have the little girl circumcised on her first birthday, for she herself had been circumcised, and it was part of her culture.

She told them she intended to do no such thing; that she was not circumcised. She had to undergo an examination by the department's doctors, who confirmed that she was not.

She told the judge that she did not even know that women in her husband's culture were circumcised until he told her so, the morning after their marriage, when he asked why she was not.

She told the court that she believed her ex-husband was trying to "attribute circumcision of the child to her, when in fact (it) had been arranged by him".

The father disputed this, saying it was common in his culture but "a primitive village practice" to which he was opposed.

The judge accepted the mother's evidence that circumcision was not practiced in her culture. He also said the father "sounded genuine when he said he saw the practice as primitive".

"But he sounded genuine when telling lies", and prudence suggested that orders restraining both parents from allowing the procedure be kept in place, the judge said.

SOURCE: The Australian

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DATE: 20/04/09

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