Oumou Toure was 19 years old when, against her will, she was held down on the floor to have her genitals sliced away in the name of tradition.
Like up to 140 million other women around the world, Toure underwent the painful practice of female circumcision.
Now Toure, 24, fears the same thing will happen to her daughter if she is deported from Canada. The Montreal mother has been rejected as a refugee and faces deportation next month to her native Guinea.
“It was done in the most brutal fashion: no anesthetic, on the floor,” said Rick Goldman, the co-ordinator of the Committee to Aid Refugees who has taken up Toure’s cause. Toure declined interviews.
The procedure, also referred to as genital mutilation, is the full or partial removal of a girl’s labia and clitoris. In extreme cases, cuts are deep enough to remove part of the vagina.
Toure’s 2½-year-old daughter, Fanta, is a Canadian citizen but unless Toure leaves her here, she fears the girl will also be forcibly circumcised, a traditional practice still prevalent in Guinea.
“This mother does not want this done to her daughter,” said Heather Macdonald, an immigration activist with the United Church of Canada who is also advocating on Toure’s behalf.
“She does’t want her in foster care but she doesn’t want her in Guinea undergoing that, either.”
Toure, who also has a nine-month-old son born in Canada, was to meet with immigration officials Thursday to discuss her case. Officials said no decision would be made immediately on her application to remain on humanitarian grounds.
Still, “it’s very good news,” Goldman said.
Female genital mutilation is prevalent in 28 African countries as well as in some countries in Asia and the Middle East. While practised largely in the Muslim community, it is not a religious rite but a cultural one.
The World Health Organization estimates that three million girls, mostly under 15, undergo circumcision each year.
Since 1996, Canada has granted refugee status in 16 cases involving the threat of mutilation, three of them in Guinea.
A spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board, which denied Toure’s original refugee claim, could not discuss details of her case.
Charles Hawkins did say it is paramount to the board to consider what could happen to claimants in their home countries.
“But it has to be based on information that is before the member at the time the hearing was heard,” he said.
Unfortunately for Toure, her daughter was born 10 days after her claim was heard.
Female circumcision is outlawed in Canada, as well as in the United States and a growing number of African nations.
Yet human rights groups say it continues, even here, having immigrated right along with members of the communities where it is practised.
A 24-year-old woman who feared her young daughter would undergo female genital mutilation if they were deported to Guinea thanked her supporters after being allowed to stay in Canada.
Oumou Toure hugged the human rights activists who worked on her case at a news conference on Friday.
“I want to thank the entire population of Canada,” Toure said. “I want to thank all the people who helped me.”
A spokeswoman for a human rights groups that worked to save Toure from being deported says Immigration Canada has accepted her application to stay in this country on humanitarian grounds.
Toure said she finds it hard to believe that she isn’t being deported.
“Even now I can barely believe it.”
The woman was facing deportation to her native Guinea in early July.
Toure’s 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Fanta, is a Canadian citizen but she feared the girl would be forcibly circumcised, if they were deported.