The Metropolitan Police is urging Home Secretary Amber Rudd to bar a Sierran Leonean woman from entering the UK due to her support for female genital mutilation (FGM). The woman is part of a delegation of nine Sierran Leonean officials who travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, earlier in September to attend the 73rd Session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The delegation – which includes minister of social welfare, gender and children's affairs, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden – is expected to travel to the UK from Switzerland.
Scotland Yard urged the high court to issue a female genital mutilation protection order and prevent "a person who may wish to carry out FGM" from entering the country, according to the Guardian.
Although the name of the person was not revealed in court, it is understood Kharday Zorokong is the person in question.
Mr Justice Holman, sitting in London, said the secretary of state would be more appropriate to address the question of whether someone could enter the country or not.
Following the high court's refusal to issue an order, the Metropolitan Police said it was considering other options. A spokesperson said it accepted the court's decision, adding: "[The force] is now liaising with the Home Office regarding what other options are available to prevent the entry into the UK of a person who may wish to carry out FGM."
It added: "FGM is illegal and constitutes child abuse. Police have a responsibility to act to protect vulnerable people and prevent people, especially the vulnerable, from becoming victims of crime. The Met will always to seek to follow the law to carry out this responsibility."
The Home Office has not responded to a request for a comment.
However, a spokesperson was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "An individual can be excluded on the grounds that their presence is 'not conducive to the public good' if it is reasonable, consistent and proportionate based on the evidence available."
Last year, Britain implemented a new law aimed at curbing FGM and protecting girls from the practice. The new legislation allows authorities to stop people from travelling if they are suspected of planning to take girls abroad to undergo the mutilation. Breaching the order is a criminal offence.
Who is Kharday Zorokong?
Zorokong is well known in Sierra Leone for her campaign against a blanket ban on female circumcision in her country.
Zorokong is the secretary general of Sierra Leone's National Sowei Council (NSC). Soweis are Sierral Leonean women who hold the most important roles in secret societies , which practice FGM as an initiation into the group.
These societies act as a bridge between politicians and rural communities across the country.
Zorokong is a Sowei and practices FGM herself, but she is against the mutilation of girls under the age of 18.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph Newspaper defined the presence of Zorokong at the UN conference as "crucial" to help ensure the international community redefines its policy towards FGM.
FGM in Sierra Leone
FGM is legal in Sierra Leone where, Unicef statistics, says nine in 10 girls and women aged between 15 and 49 are subjected to the practice throughout the nation.
It is believed that around 80% of the population in Sierra Leone support the practice. The government is resisting calls by rights groups for a nationwide ban. However, some politicians have supported the ban for the practice under the age of 18.
Last year, the country's social welfare and gender minister Moijua Kaikai said at a women's conference the practice would never be outlawed. Kaikai said FGM should be conducted responsibly, but claimed it was part of Sierra Leone's culture.
The country also ratified the Maputo protocol, on women's rights in Africa, that calls for the elimination of harmful practices including FGM.
What is FGM?
Usually carried out for cultural and religious purposes, it involves the alteration and removal of female genitals for non-medical reasons.
The UN defined the practice as a human right violation and , and "an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. "
Haemorrhage and infection deriving from the practice can cause girls, usually under the age of 15, to die.
Long-term consequences include recurrent bladder or urinary tract infections, cystits, infertility, childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
FGM is practised in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In August 2015, Somalia announced it intended to implement a nationwide ban on FGM. In May 2016, a similar move was made in Nigeria with a law that also forbade men from abandoning women and children without economic support. The practice has been also outlawed in another 18 African countries, including Benin, Central African Republic, Egypt and South Africa.
The UN has warned that more than 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM and, if it continues, some 86 million additional females worldwide would be subjected to it by 2030.