CNN, Atlanta, Tuesday, 27 January 2004.

Woman sentenced to jail for circumcising girls

Tuesday, January 27, 2004 Posted: 1:53 PM EST (1853 GMT)

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) -- A judge in northern Ghana has sentenced a 70-year-old woman to five years in prison for violating a ban on circumcising girls, saying the tough sentence should deter an "outmoded custom."

Ghana in 1994 outlawed the practice of cutting away parts of girls' sexual organs, but the long-held rite of passage has continued in parts of West Africa, mostly rural areas where education campaigns are only beginning to reach largely illiterate and highly traditional populations.

Prosecution is rare, throughout West Africa.

Judge Jacob Boon on Friday handed down the five-year sentence after the defendant admitted in court in Bawku that she continued initiating girls into womanhood, "as demanded by our custom," court documents showed.

"I hope the sentence will serve as a deterrent to other practitioners of the outmoded custom, that the law would not deal leniently with anyone who continued to perpetuate it," Boon said, according to documents sent from the court, 500 miles north of Ghana's capital, Accra.

The World Health Organization estimates up to 140 million girls -- most of them in 28 African countries -- have been subjected to female genital cutting.

(File revised 6 February 2004)