A married couple have been sentenced to five-and-a-half years and four years and nine months for the female genital mutilation of their then 21-month-old daughter.

The 37-year-old man and 27-year-old woman had pleaded not guilty to procuring an act of FGM at an address in Dublin on the 16 September 2016.

The couple are from an African country, but cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, who is now five years old.

Both sentences will run concurrently.

Their conviction at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last November was the first in the history of the State.

FGM has been outlawed in Ireland since legislation was introduced to criminalise the practice in 2012. It carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

The husband and wife were also found guilty of one count of child cruelty on the same date.

The husband was sentenced to three years on that count and the wife to two years and nine months.

The State did not argue that the couple had carried out FGM themselves, but had "aided and abetted, counselled or procured" it.

The trial heard that they had attended a hospital with their daughter and asked for help because she was bleeding from the genital area.

They had claimed the child had sustained her injuries by falling backwards onto a toy while not wearing a nappy.

The parents' version of events was disputed by several medical experts.

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Sri Paran, a paediatric surgeon who performed a procedure to stop the girl's bleeding, came to the conclusion that her injury had not been sustained accidentally. He referred the case to gardaí for investigation.

The surgeon told the court that the child would have gone into shock within 20 hours had her bleeding not been stopped.

There were no other injuries to the girl and she was otherwise well-nourished and well-cared for, he said.

Dr Sinead Harty, a specialist in child protection, examined the child four days after she was admitted to hospital.

She said that her injuries were not consistent with a fall on a toy.

Dr Harty told the trial that social workers who became involved with the family reported that both the accused were good parents to their three children.

Dr Beatrice Nolan, a consultant haematologist, gave evidence that the child had not been suffering from any bleeding disorder that might have caused her injury.

The couple were remanded in custody following their conviction. The court was told there was a deportation order in place for the man and that it was currently under appeal.

Sentencing the couple, Judge Elma Sheahan said the offence had resulted in serious harm to the child, who may suffer psychological or psycho-sexual effects that may not be fully known for years.

She said that while it was not the case in this situation, FGM - "the deliberate physical mutilation of a child by its parent" - was a "hidden" crime often carried out with the collusion of extended family members.

The judge described the offence as the "most egregious breach of trust by those presumed to be the protectors of their infant child". She said the girl had suffered an "appalling act of cruelty".

She said the 2012 law was in place to protect the most vulnerable victims and that the couple had shown a lack of remorse and had not provided any insight into what had occurred.

Mr Sheahan noted that mitigating circumstances included that both parents had previously been of good character, and that prison may be more difficult for the couple because of the nature of the offending and the fact that they are foreign nationals.

The judge said the loss of their parents on their three children also had to be considered.

The woman is an Irish citizen who has lived here since she was a teenager, and who was also the victim of a different form of FGM. The father had described himself as an anti-FGM campaigner in Ireland.

The couple's three children are now in the care of the mother's sister. The court heard they are still attending the same crèches and school.

An estimated 5,800 women and girls in Ireland have undergone FGM, with human rights charities warning that another 2,700 are at risk.

Female genital mutilation refers to all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.

Female genital mutilation is a cultural, rather than a religious practice. No religion promotes or condones it. It can have serious and long-term consequences for the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women who undergo the practice.

FGM is a criminal offence under the Irish Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012.

Speaking after sentencing Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly, Garda National Protective Services Bureau said: "Today's conviction and sentence represents the first of its kind in Ireland.

"It sends a strong and important message that Female Genital Mutilation, the mutilation of children and young girls, is not and will not be tolerated. It is a heinous and barbaric practice which is a criminal offence in Ireland.

"Our communities need to be vigilant and aware of this crime and anyone who suspects or believes a child is likely to be subject to female genital mutilation either here or being brought outside the country for the purpose of female genital mutilation, to contact their local garda station, the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111 or the child abuse reporting line on 1800 555 222."