Justice for Jasmine:Support the campaign to protect Jasmine from FGM and allow her to stay in the UK
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Trigger Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of female genital mutilation (FGM), which readers might find upsetting Imagine an eleven-year-old girl is standing before you. What do you think is going through her head? Is she thinking about school, her favourite subject, or the subjects she would rather avoid? Is she thinking about spending time with her friends? Is she thinking about her summer holiday plans? Would it surprise you to know that she is currently the subject of a campaign to grant her and her family refugee status to stay in the UK? This eleven-year-old girl, known as Jasmine, or A, is at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) if she is removed from the UK, where she has lived since August 2012. Jasmine’s mother, originally from Sudan, moved to Bahrain following the marriage to Jasmine’s father. In 2012 and later, in 2015, Jasmine’s mother sought asylum in the UK on the grounds that if sent back to Bahrain, she would be mistreated, having converted from Sunni to Shia Muslim, and Jasmine would be subject to FGM. Her application was rejected, and after a number of further applications, having exhausted her appeal rights, Jasmine’s mother was given notice that she and her family were to be deported to Bahrain in late September 2018.
FGM is incredibly dangerous and Jasmine’s mother has reported that two of her sisters died as a result of the practice.
The day before the family were due to board the airplane, the family’s local authority, Suffolk County Council, was contacted by Jasmine’s school, having been informed by Jasmine that she was due to be deported the following day. The charity Barnardo’s, which had previously been involved in Jasmine’s case, reiterated its advice that Jasmine was at high risk of FGM if returned to Bahrain. There was a further risk that if deported to Bahrain, the family would subsequently be removed to Sudan, as a result of new rules removing citizenship from nationals who had been away from Bahrain for 5 years. If removed to Sudan, Jasmine is also at high risk of FGM, given the extremely high percentage of women and girls who are subjected to the practice there.
Jasmine’s mother is from the North Kordofan state in Sudan, where the prevalence of FGM is as high as 97.7%. Sadly, the practice continues in Jasmine’s family: it is known that her three cousins have been cut, and her mother and aunts were subject to type three FGM. Type three FGM involves narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal, which is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora. The covering of the vaginal opening is done with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans. A small opening is left to allow urine and menstruation to pass through. FGM is incredibly dangerous and Jasmine’s mother has reported that two of her sisters died as a result of the practice. Despite Jasmine’s mother being against FGM, as a single mother it is unlikely that she would be able to prevent Jasmine being subject to the practice if they were deported. Indeed, the “mother would be financially reliant on her family members who want Jasmine to be cut. The mother is highly vulnerable; she has a “diagnosis of recurrent depression, anxiety and PTSD” and she suffered “adverse physical consequences of FGM”.”
Dr Charlotte Proudman, a barrister who specialises in violence against women and girls and represented Jasmine’s mother, told us that “During my time as a barrister, I have represented a number of very vulnerable clients. Jasmine’s mother is the most vulnerable client I have come across". As a result of this high risk, the local authority applied for an FGM Protection Order, which can be issued by the High Court or family court. This is an injunctive order which is tailored to the particular case in hand. It can be made to protect either a person at risk of FGM or to protect them when FGM has been committed. The order can include prohibitions, restrictions and other requirements to protect the individual, including prohibiting them from leaving the UK. In Jasmine’s case, an FGM Protection Order was obtained which prevented her and her family from leaving the country, which included prohibiting the Home Office from deporting her.
Jasmine is at high risk of FGM if she is deported to Bahrain and if she is then subsequently removed to Sudan, where FGM is highly prevalent.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, launched an appeal against the family court’s decision to issue an FGM Protection Order. The Home Secretary argued that the immigration court’s previous assessment that there were no substantial grounds for believing there was a real risk that FGM would be practised if Jasmine were deported should have been taken into consideration when deciding whether an FGM Protection Order was made. However, the Court of Appeal rejected this argument, stating that the context and nature of the decision-making processes in the family court and immigration court are materially different. This is because in the family court, the welfare of the child is of paramount importance and is the focus of the decision-making process. The family court therefore does not need to rely on the assessment made by the immigration court in relation to Jasmine’s mother’s claim for asylum.
In this case, it is lucky that Jasmine was aware that she and her family were to be deported and reported this to her school. It is also lucky that the local authority intervened and applied for an FGM Protection Order, without which she undoubtedly would have been removed to Bahrain or Sudan where she would have undergone FGM. For other girls, they are not so lucky. In a number of cases, girls do not know why they are leaving the country or what that will mean. Some are taken “on holiday” during the school vacation period, during which time, FGM is carried out on them and they then return in time for school the next term. The girls in these situations often do not know what is in stall for them until it is too late. Moreover, the local authorities do not always act as swiftly and prudently as Suffolk County Council did in Jasmine’s case.
"The Home Office is making decisions which put women and girls at extreme risk. As we have seen with Jasmine’s aunts, the result can be death.”
This is why it is even more important that the Home Office and the immigration judges take the issue of FGM extremely seriously. Indeed they should, as established by the case of Fornah in which it was held that a risk of FGM is sufficient grounds to grant refugee status. If the immigration court had found in Jasmine’s mother’s favour when she had applied for asylum, the protracted proceedings which Jasmine’s family have had to go through, with the constant fear and uncertainty that they would be removed, would not have been an issue. Jasmine’s mother, who is already incredibly vulnerable, would not have been put through the traumatic limbo that has been the past few years. Most importantly, their ordeal would have been over; by granting asylum, Jasmine would not still be at risk of being deported. Dr Charlotte Proudman highlights what is at stake for Jasmine and other girls in similar positions. “There is overwhelming evidence from a psychiatrist, a Professor in Anthropology, the child’s social worker, an independent social worker and the children’s guardian who represented the child, that Jasmine is at high risk of FGM if she is deported. And yet, she is being punished for her mother’s immigration status. The Home Office is making decisions which put women and girls at extreme risk. As we have seen with Jasmine’s aunts, the result can be death.” Over 300 MPs, judges, campaigners, lawyers and charities have signed an open letter to the Priti Patel, urging her to grant Jasmine and her family refugee status. The list includes a number of eminent lawyers, such as Dame Helena Kennedy QC, Baroness Butler-Sloss as well as anti-FGM campaigners and educators, such as Leyla Hussein OBE and Hoda Ali. “The handling of Jasmine, her case and her family demonstrates the hostile treatment of people who aren’t British. The government is committed to prosecuting FGM cases in this country, and yet, when there is a compelling case that FGM is highly likely to be carried out abroad, vast sums of taxpayers’ money is wasted on thwarting applications which might provide the applicant with protection. There is a real hypocrisy here. Rather than focusing on political point-scoring, the Home Secretary should focus on the girl living in this country, who is at real risk of being tortured.” Dr Charlotte Proudman continues. Now I want you to think back to that eleven-year-old girl that stands before you. How do you see her now? The struggle for Jasmine and her family is not over. But it is hoped that with continued campaigning, the Home Office will see the light and grant refugee status to this family. And there is a way that you can help too. Please sign this online petition to grant her refugee status. Every signature can make a difference. For those in the UK, please write to your local MP using this template.