A teenager who fears being subjected to female circumcision if she is returned to Sierra Leone has failed in a legal bid to seek sanctuary in the UK.
A girl undergoes the 'evil practice' of female circumcision
Zainab Fornah, 17, was refused asylum in 2003 and the Court of Appeal in London backed the decision on Thursday.
Asylum seekers must come from a social group fearing persecution, but it was decided women facing genital mutilation did not fall into this category.
The House of Lords will now be asked to scrutinise what defines a social group.
Female circumcision is legal in Sierra Leone and often performed before puberty.
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.
Women carry out the surgery as part of an initiation rite to adulthood which allows entry to powerful female secret societies.
It is also undertaken on girls as young as five and pregnant women. The Court of Appeal heard uncircumcised girls are perceived as less eligible for marriage.
After being refused asylum, Ms Fornah - who has been given permission by the Home Office to stay in the UK for three years on humanitarian grounds - went to an immigration adjudicator who ruled against the government's decision.
But the Immigration Appeal Tribunal reversed this finding and two out of three appeal court judges backed its decision on Thursday.
One of them, Lord Justice Auld, said female circumcision was an "evil practice" which violates Article 3 (degrading treatment) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
But he said the custom was so widespread in Sierra Leone and so bound up with its culture and traditions that it causes difficulties in claims for asylum by young girls who fear it.
It said not all young Sierra Leonean women fear female genital mutilation. Lord Justice Auld and Lord Justice Chadwick agreed with the appeal tribunal but Lady Justice Arden allowed her appeal.
She said female genital mutilation identifies one social group in Sierra Leone - women accepted by society as full adult women members - and therefore women outside this group are therefore a social group too.
Lord Justice Auld said the appeal court wanted the issue of what constitutes a particular social group to be scrutinised by Law Lords when the best test case had been identified.