Woman at Risk of FGM in Sierra Leone is Granted Asylum in UK

The United Kingdom has granted asylum to Zainab Fornah, 19, who fears she would be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) if she returns to Sierra Leone, her home country. Under refugee law, an individual can be granted asylum if she belongs to a “particular social group” that is in danger of persecution. In Fornah’s case, her status as a woman puts her at risk of FGM, also known as female genital cutting. The procedure, which is practiced on about 90 percent of all women in Sierra Leone, involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris, resulting in reduced or no sexual feeling, pain, long-term illness, mental disorders, and sometimes death BBC writes.

This decision makes persecution based on gender a valid basis for qualifying for asylum, in addition to race, religion, nationality, and political opinion, The Guardian reports. Lord Bingham of Cornhill, one of the Law Lords who granted Fornah asylum, told Times Online, “I think it clear that women in Sierra Leone are a group of persons sharing a common characteristic which, without a fundamental change in social mores, is unchangeable; namely a position of social inferiority as compared with men.”

Sierra Leone officials have condemned the British ruling, BBC reports. Septimus Kaikai explained to BBC that, while people should have the freedom to decide where to live, “What we are opposed to is the deliberate and conscious and premeditated attempt by individuals to malign and besmear the reputation, integrity, and character of a government and its people.”

Lord Bingham said that Sierra Leone authorities have done little to curb the widespread practice, Times Online reports.


Times Online 10/19/06; The Guardian 10/19/06; International Herald Tribune 10/18/06; BBC 10/19/06, 10/18/06

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