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Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under heavy fire for aggressively pursuing the deportation of an 11-year-old girl, who is at high risk of being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) if deported.
Despite the implementation of an FGM protection order, and a judge ruling that deportation would expose the child to serious danger, the Home Office has not flinched.
As a result, The Good Law Project has published an open letter addressed to the MP for Witham, urging her to reconsider. The letter’s signatories include over 30 MPs, campaigners for women’s rights, human rights lawyers and a number of charities.
FGM is a procedure that involves the deliberate partial or total removal of external female genitalia, or other injuries to female genitalia, for non-medical reasons. There are four types of FGM, including, a clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation. The fourth type of FGM involves any other injury made to female genitalia, such as cutting, burning and scraping.
This procedure is typically carried out before puberty, from infancy to age 15 and creates a plethora of serious long-term issues, both physical and psychological. This includes, urinary problems, incontinence, kidney problems and kidney failure, increased risk of vaginal infections, menstrual issues, sex problems, childbirth complication, the creation of scar tissue and keloid, the need for later surgeries and complex psychological problems. It is also deemed a human rights violation by the UN.
FGM was made illegal in 1985, with the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act. This was replaced in 2003 with The Female Genital Mutilation Act. However, further safeguards were introduced on 17 July 2015, when the government introduced five key legislative changes on FGM, under the Serious Crimes Act. This included, extra-territorial acts, the assurance of anonymity for survivors, culpability for those failing to protect children from FGM, duty to notify the police of FGM and, the introduction of FGM protection orders.
FGM protection orders legally protect those at risk of undergoing the procedure. The application process can be initiated by the woman at risk, a local authority or another individual with permission of the court. If an application is granted, safeguarding measures are put in place. This may involve an individual surrendering their passport to prevent them from being taken abroad for the procedure.
According to Rape Crisis, an estimated 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK. A further 66,000 women are thought to have survived this process, and living in the aftermath. Although, the true figure is potentially much higher.
Meanwhile, in its annual report on FGM, the NHS recorded 4,120 newly recorded women and girls with FGM between 2018-2019 alone.
Back in 2018, a woman seeking asylum exhausted her appeal rights, and was refused by the Home Office. Following this refusal, she was given notice of removal. The woman and her daughter (known as Jasmine) had arrived in the UK in 2012, and the child now only speaks English, having been brought up in the UK. The mother herself is a survivor of Type 3 FGM, and her two sisters both died from the injuries they sustained through FGM.
If deported, according to court documents, the mother and daughter, who have expired Bahraini citizenship, are likely to be sent to Sudan, in the North Kordofan state. There, the percentage of women who have undergone FGM is 97.7%. The single mother made the decision to bring her daughter to the UK to protect her from this brutal and devastating practice.
Fortunately, the young child was brave enough to talk to her teacher about her fears concerning what would happen if she were to be deported. Her school then reached out to Suffolk County Council, which obtained an FGM protection order in the family courts. This prevented both child and mother from being forced to leave the UK.
Following this, the council took this case to court, and after a series of hearings over 12 months, Mr Justice Newton concluded his assessment of the FGM risk. He determined that it was “difficult” to think of a “clearer or more serious case” where the risk to a child was so high. He concluded: “I find without hesitation overwhelmingly that there is a high risk of FGM to A (Jasmine)”.
Moreover, in the 2006 case of Fornah v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, it was found that risk of FGM was sufficient grounds to grant a refugee asylum in the UK.
Despite the UK government pledging £50 million to end FGM being practised across Africa, it appears that when children are faced with FGM on its own shores, the government is not quite so caring.
In a bid to deport the 11-year-old who is at high risk of FGM, Home Secretary Priti Patel launched a costly legal challenge against the family court’s involvement in the girl’s case. However, the appeal was dismissed in a landmark case.
Speaking to The Guardian about the Home Office’s hypocrisy, Charlotte Proudman, a Barrister on the mother’s legal team said: “It is appalling and shameful the home secretary is wasting taxpayers’ money to score points around policy yet amid the political jostling is prepared to risk the effective torture of this girl”. She added: “On one hand the department is pursuing FGM prosecutions in Britain. With the other it is sending girls abroad to get cut, simply because they are not British”.
Commenting on the continued resistance by the Home Office, Baroness Kennedy said she was dumbfounded that it had not listened to the judgement made by Mr Justice Newton: “It just amazes me a judge makes a statement like that and still the case is being resisted”.
On Friday 10 July, the Good Law Project published an open letter, addressed to the Secretary of State, urging her to grant refugee status to 11-year-old Jasmine. The letter was signed by over 300 people, including MPs, peers, campaigners, lawyers, and charity representatives, including Justice for Women, CEASE UK, Karma Nirvana, and FORWARD.
In the letter, Suffolk County Council is praised for its proactive stance that led to the case being taken to Court, and who without Jasmine and her mother would have been deported. The letter also states the importance of protecting Jasmine. It outlines that many of the child’s relatives have been subjected to the horrific procedure, and while her mother does not support the practice, if faced with deportation, she would be unable to protect her daughter.
The letter closes by saying: “There is no need to use further public resources on this case. We call on you to grant Jasmine and her family refugee status without asking them to make another asylum claim. Jasmine’s mother has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for 8 years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Jasmine, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child. We call upon you, as Home Secretary, to show compassion and grant Jasmine and her family refugee status so that Jasmine can live safely in the UK without the risk of FGM”. The open letter is also accompanied by a petition, which so far has been signed by 13,995 people.
Responding to the open letter, in a statement made to The Guardian, a spokesperson said: “Our lawyers are contacting their legal representatives to ensure they are clear about the next steps. Asylum cases such as this can be very complex and we always carefully and sensitively consider the welfare of the individuals involved”.
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