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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
S Leone anger at FGM asylum in UK
A girl undergoing circumcision
Female circumcision remains widespread in parts of the world
Sierra Leone's information minister has condemned the British House of Lords ruling to grant a teenager asylum because she feared female circumcision.

Septimus Kaikai told the BBC that Zainab Fornah, 18, had denigrated Sierra Leone by her claims, because she wanted to live in the UK.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is extremely common in Sierra Leone.

Mr Kaikai said that women could choose whether or not to undergo the traditional procedure.

"We believe in the freedom of people to choose where they want to live," Mr Kaikai told the BBC's World Today programme.

"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."

'Blindingly obvious'

Ms Fornah's initial asylum applications were rejected by an Immigration Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal but this was overturned by five Law Lords.

Even the lower classes of Sierra Leonean society regard uninitiated indigenous women as an abomination fit only for the worst sort of sexual exploitation
Lord Bingham of Cornhill
The Refugee Convention says successful asylum seekers must come from a social group fearing persecution.

The Law Lords ruled female members of communities where FGM was almost universal were such a group.

Baroness Hale of Richmond added it was a mystery why the case had reached the House of Lords as it was so "blindingly obvious" that asylum laws applied.

Female circumcision is legal and often performed before puberty in Sierra Leone.

Up to 90% of women have faced the procedure in the west African country, which sees part or all of the clitoris surgically removed, often resulting in reduced or no sexual feeling.

The operation is carried out, sometimes forcibly, on as many as 6,000 girls a day worldwide and health organisations report subsequent health problems.

'Horrendous treatment'

Women carry out the surgery as part of an initiation rite to adulthood.

Lord Bingham said: "The operation, often very crudely performed, causes excruciating pain.

"Even the lower classes of Sierra Leonean society regard uninitiated indigenous women as an abomination fit only for the worst sort of sexual exploitation."

The UN Refugee Agency's UK representative, Bemma Donkoh, told BBC News the agency had "consistently advocated that the refugee definition, if properly interpreted, can encompass women who have been persecuted for gender-related reasons".

"Significantly, all the parties involved in this case accepted the fact that female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly horrendous form of treatment and a violation of human rights that amounts to persecution," she added.

The Law Lords' judgment would provide "invaluable guidance on the interpretation of the refugee definition as set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention", Ms Donkoh said.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Hear why Zainab Fornah was granted asylum



SEE ALSO
Female circumcision law extended
26 May 05 |  Scotland
'I had female circumcision'
13 May 04 |  Health

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