UK, London, July 26, 2022 – As organisations committed to the safety and wellbeing of girls and women, we are jointly raising our concerns over how girls could be at increased and imminent risk of female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) in the UK due to the arrival in the country last week of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, who is the Head Priest and leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community and a vocal advocate of FGM/C.
The Dawoodi Bohras are a sect of Shia Islam, and it is estimated that the Syedna (which means “leader”) has around 1.2 million followers worldwide. During his UK trip, he is expected to receive thousands of visitors, including at least 6000 families from the UK, 3000 families from the USA and Canada, and many from Europe and elsewhere.
FGM/C is typically performed on girls from the Bohra community aged between six and nine years old. The practice is referred to as “khatna” or “khafz” within the community and usually takes the form of Type 1 or Type 4 FGM/C, which is classified by the World Health Organisation as cutting of the clitoral hood or clitoris, or pricking the female genitals.
Members of the Bohra community have rightly called for the abandonment of FGM/C, which is a serious human rights violation that can cause life-long physical and psychological trauma, and is a form of child abuse when performed on a minor.
Survivors have bravely spoken about the harmful impact. According to a survey of Bohra women conducted by Sahiyo, another survivor-led NGO working to end FGM/C, 48% of respondents reported that being cut had left an emotional impact on their adult life, and 35% said that it had affected their sex life. Almost a quarter also disclosed that they’d experienced physical health issues following FGM/C.
In 2015, the Syedna’s office issued letters to his followers in countries where FGM/C was illegal, including the UK, informing members not to perform “khafz”. However, this was later contradicted by him in a public sermon when he stated “the act must be done.”
The Bohra leader’s support for FGM/C was also demonstrated when the UK registered charity Dawat-E-Hadiyah Trust (United Kingdom) – for which Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin is the Sole Corporate – spent £436,954 in 2016 and £328,711 in 2017 on, “costs incurred in defending four members of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat in Sydney in connection with Female Genital Mutilation.” This was regarding a landmark legal case in which a Dawoodi Bohra imam, a former midwife, and a mother were sentenced to prison for the mutilation of two girls in Australia’s first criminal prosecution for FGM/C.
FGM/C is illegal in the UK
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 states that it is a criminal offence for any person to perform FGM in England and Wales, and the nationality or residence status of the victim is irrelevant. The Serious Crime Act 2015 further strengthens protections against FGM/C.
The law in England and Wales states that it is illegal to attempt to commit an FGM/C offence or conspire to commit an offence; aid, abet, counsel or procure a person to commit an FGM/C offence; encourage or assist a person to commit an FGM/C offence; or fail to protect a girl from the risk of FGM/C. A person found guilty of committing FGM/C faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both.
Potential for increased risk of girls being subjected to FGM/C
FGM/C is illegal in the UK, and we are disappointed and concerned that the Syedna was granted a visa to enter the country in July 2022, despite his support for FGM/C and the influence he has over his congregation. Other countries have rejected his application for a visa, such as Canada in 2018.
Girls in communities that practice FGM/C are more at risk during the summer holidays because there are fewer safeguarding measures in place while schools are closed, and long holidays provide time for physical recuperation and scar tissue to heal. There is also the risk of “holiday cutting” when girls are transported to other countries to undergo FGM/C.
We call on Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin to protect the welfare of girls by immediately and publicly denouncing FGM/C to all his followers worldwide.
If the Syedna does not take this opportunity, in the interest of child protection we request that the UK government takes prompt action to revoke his visa.
The state must also implement steps to protect girls at risk. In a similar way to how Operation Limelight runs safeguarding operations on the UK’s borders to raise awareness about FGM/C and assist potential victims, authorities must take proactive measures, including ensuring the Bohra community – particularly those attending religious gatherings with the Syedna – are informed about the negative legal, psychological, and health consequences of FGM/C.
Most importantly, if you are a girl at risk, a family member, or a person who is aware of someone who might be at risk of FGM/C, call the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email them at email@example.com. Alternatively, contact the police on 101, or in an emergency, call them on 999.
- Equality Now
- Dawoodi Bohra Welfare Society
- FORWARD UK
- Hawa Trust
- Orchid Project
- U.S. End FGM/C Network
- YESS London
- End FGC Singapore
Notes to editors:
For media requests, please contact Tara Carey, Head of Media at Equality Now: Tcarey@equalitynow.org, M. +44 (0)7971556340
For more information on FGM/C, please refer to the FGM section on Equality Now’s website, and the report Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Call For A Global Response.