I asked the following question about FGM at last full council (9th July 2020).
“I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary, Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”
Plenty, it seems.
And just as as well. The situation is scandalous. As Cllr Penny Otton, LDGI Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People, said:
“It was shameful that the home secretary Priti Patel was intending to deport a very young girl who risked FGM if sent back to Sudan. This child has been thriving at school in Suffolk and speaks no other language than English. It was only due to the fantastic work of Suffolk County Council’s care team and lawyers that this girl was able to stay in the UK and the home secretary was forced to back down. We congratulate them all for their urgent actions to stop the deportation, which would have put this girl at extreme risk.”
FGM is a crime in the UK and the home secretary’s attempt to deport this child would fly in the face of this. Suffolk County Council officers were only just in time: one day later and the child would have been on the plane. 97.7% of girls and women in the part of Sudan she comes from suffer FGM: the judge considered the risk to be extreme. After a series of hearings , Justice Newton concluded: “It is difficult to think of a more serious case where the risk to [the girl] of FGM is so high.”
Suffolk County Council has shown that its officers are alert, aware, and effective in crisis – and that it takes FGM protection extremely seriously. I am very proud of my colleagues, and I think they have set an superb example to other councils to take similar action in order to protect young girls from a practice that is inhumane, unnecessary and causes lifelong damage.
The issue the child’s mother, herself a victim of type 3 FGM -infibulation: the most serious variation of the mutilation – had her asylum claim rejected when citing fears that her child would face the same mutilation if returned to Sudan or Bahrain. As her barrister put it: “They don’t have children’s guardians in the immigration courts and this girl’s vulnerabilities were not properly considered. If it weren’t for Suffolk county council she would have been on a plane.”
She added: “I work on a lot of these cases and not all local authorities are this proactive. This case shows how dangerous it is relying on the immigration courts to make decisions about the risk of FGM.”
The child was later granted an FGM protection order via the family court which ruled that the 11-year-old should be prevented from being deported to a location where she is deemed at risk of FGM. (In fact, the family court judge ruled that the child would be at an extremely high risk of suffering the abusive practice if deported because her wider family support FGM although her mother opposes it.)
It is clear that asylum applications need to be more aware of the impact of a deportation on the physical wellbeing of children.
The child’s mother “has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Xxxx, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child,” reads an open letter signed by prominent lawmakers including Ed Davey and Jeremy Corbyn.
“There is overwhelming evidence to support this child being granted refugee status. In the case of Fornah in 2006, it was established that risk of FGM is a sufficient ground to grant refugee status.
If this at-risk child is not granted refugee status, then what child would meet such a high test?”
Which leaves us with the worrying question: is she yet safe?