For undocumented mothers, the hope of asylum to protect their daughter from excision


January 10, 2024


Saint-Ouen, France


“If the baby you’re carrying is a girl, we could apply for asylum to protect her from excision,” the social worker slips to 27-year-old Nassira, an undocumented Ivorian whose long dress hides a belly rounded by five months’ pregnancy, during an appointment in Saint-Ouen.

Originally from the countryside, Nassira herself underwent traditional excision in Côte d’Ivoire, where she was forced into marriage before leaving her violent husband, according to her story.

The mother of a one-year-old boy born on French soil, Nassira has been living in a social hotel in Sevran, and has been attending a series of medical and social appointments in Seine-Saint-Denis. Soon, an ultrasound will tell her the child’s sex.

Since arriving in France in 2021, she has wandered between the streets, makeshift accommodation and welfare hotels. “She’s in for years of hardship, unless she gives birth to a girl,” says the social worker anonymously.

In Côte d’Ivoire, 37% of women aged between 15 and 49 are victims of excision, according to figures from the association Excision parlons-en. This mutilation generally involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora.

The practice can lead to severe pain, urinary and menstrual problems, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, reduced sexual desire and pleasure, and psychological trauma.


In the case of untreated infections and haemorrhaging, it can even cause death.

– Ofpra protection –

Among the countries most affected by female genital mutilation are “Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Sudan”, explains Annalou Kleinschmidt, head of violence against women at the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra).

A total of 20,000 minors are currently under Ofpra protection in France, to protect them from female genital mutilation if they return home.

With her one-year-old son on her lap, Nassira confides that she is afraid of being “sent back” to Côte d’Ivoire. She would like “to work, to study, to have a job”, as she has “gone as far as the final year of high school”. But “it’s too complicated without papers”.

If she were pregnant with a daughter, obtaining asylum for her child would automatically entitle her to a French residence permit. However, “not all applications are successful”, says the social worker.

This asylum application for minors is “special”.

“The file requires a certificate of non-excision, issued after a gynecological examination which must be carried out in a medico-judicial unit”, explains Anita Traoré, president of the association Chance et protection pour toutes, which helps women who have been victims of this mutilation.

– Certificate of non-excision –

But these units are overwhelmed. “It’s very difficult to get an appointment, especially in the Ile-de-France region,” says Isabelle Gillette-Faye, president of the Fédération nationale du Groupe pour l’abolition des mutilations sexuelles (GAMS).

“What’s more, this is an extremely delicate examination, which must not turn into institutional violence against the girls being examined”, she continues.

This medical examination can also be “violent” and “aggressive”: “sometimes, little girls aren’t prepared for it”, warns Violaine Husson, head of gender and protection at Cimade, the association that helps migrants and refugees.

All the more so as it must be carried out every three to five years, once asylum has been granted, to “check that the minor has not been excised”, explains Annalou Kleinschmidt.

The certificate of non-excision must be corroborated by other information, gathered during an interview, “the key stage in the procedure”, she adds, “it is the parents who will express their fears about their daughter to Ofpra”.

During this interview, we discuss the area of origin, the ethnic group to which they belong, the degree of tradition respected, and the number of excised women in the family.

“Asylum is granted on a case-by-case basis; it’s a complex process. Women of full age or minors from certain countries may have their applications rejected because they don’t come from high-risk areas”, warns Isabelle Gillette-Faye. “Senegal, for example, prohibits excision, but some women continue to be victims.


Victoria Lavelle


Humaniterre with AFP


Archive photo _ SIA KAMBOU /AFP- Abidjan December 17, 2013

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