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High Court judge allows girl at risk of FGM to be taken on Egypt trip subject to safeguards

A girl at potential risk of female genial mutilation (FGM) may be taken on a trip to Egypt to visit her father but only in strictly controlled circumstances, a High Court judge has ruled.

Hearing the case of X (Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order No.2), Re [2019] EWHC 1990 Cobb J appointed the girl’s British maternal grandfather to be responsible for her safety while in Egypt and laid down a 16-point schedule to which he must adhere to achieve this.

The application had brought under section 5A and Schedule 2 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

X is now aged three and lives with her English mother. Her Egyptian father is not at present allowed to enter the UK and is unlikely to be able to obtain a visa in the foreseeable future.

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Her mother wished to take X to Egypt to visit her father but the local authority said she might be at risk of FGM there.

Cobb J said that at the conclusion of the substantive hearing, the local authority indicated that it still regarded the risk to X of a trip to Egypt as ‘high', but would not actively oppose the relaxation of a travel ban imposed earlier if this were done to permit “one carefully orchestrated trip, provided that I considered the risks to be manageable”.

The judge said: “I have reached the conclusion that the risks identified are sufficiently significant as to justify the imposition of a worldwide travel ban at least at present time.

“There are many 'contextual' high-risk factors surrounding FGM in Egypt, and there are few 'standard' safeguards available, given the relative impotence of the law enforcement agencies, and the low numbers of prosecutions.”

But he also recognised the value in X meeting and having a relationship with her father.

“While not losing sight of the fact that the risk to be guarded against constitutes a heinous form of criminal ill-treatment, and while accepting the 'obligation' on me to take measures within the scope of my powers to avoid the risk, in all the circumstances I am nonetheless satisfied that sufficient safeguards can be put in place around X to allow for her to have a short, and carefully managed, trip to Egypt later this year to meet her father,” Cobb J said.

He said this should consist only of meeting her father in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada and X would not be allowed to include travel outside the town and specifically not to the rural area where the father’s family live.

“I do not support, nor will I permit, any meeting between X and the wider paternal family at this stage,” he said.

“I realise that this will be a disappointment to the wider family, and possibly to the father; I am conscious of the excitement and anticipation of X's possible visit to Egypt, but I have to prioritise X's relationship with her father, and need to consider X's safety first and foremost.

“Having had the chance to assess the characters of the paternal grandparents, I believe that it would be excessively onerous on the maternal grandfather to have to supervise contact for them with X on the first trip.”

The judge also imposed 17 undertakings on X’s mother and eight on her father before the trip can be allowed.

Mark Smulian

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