Why does FGM happen and where is it legal?

EastEnders has tackled many controversial topics in its history, and now it is bravely addressing the practice of FGM – female genital mutilation.

Mila Marwa has opened up on the show as she worries that her younger sister is to receive the same treatment she got as a child.

This is a very real issue many women face: UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures.

What are the reasons for FGM?

The NHS explain that there are no health benefits to FGM and it can cause serious harm, including:

  • constant pain
  • pain and difficulty having sex
  • repeated infections, which can lead to infertility
  • bleeding, cysts and abscesses
  • problems peeing or holding pee in (incontinence)
  • depression, flashbacks and self-harm
  • problems during labour and childbirth, which can be life threatening for mother and baby

The reasons why some cultures or communities practice FGM is more to do with societal norms, attitudes and beliefs.

The practice is rooted in controlling women’s sexuality and attempts to ‘preserve’ a woman’s purity.  

What is FGM? What are the different types?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed. It’s also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms, such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan.

There are four main examples of FGM:

  • type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris
  • type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (with or without removal of the labia majora)
  • type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia
  • other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, cutting, scraping or burning the area

Domestic abuse: Where to get help and how to make a silent 999 call

Yasmin Khan, the Welsh Government’s advisor for domestic abuse advises what help is available for victims

If you are a victim of domestic violence in Wales, or are concerned about a friend or loved one, there are many ways to receive help, advice and support.

On Tuesday, ITV Wales detailed how the daughters of a woman who was murdered by her partner have described the pain of watching their mother become a “helpless” victim of domestic abuse.

An estimated 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 years – 2.3 million people – experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

  • What is domestic abuse?

Police forces across Wales describe domestic abuse as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

This can also include honour-based abuse and forced marriage.

South Wales Police said: “Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or social background.

“If you are suffering from physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse, or are being threatened, intimidated or stalked by a current or previous partner or close family member, it’s likely you’re a victim of domestic abuse.”

  • How to get help if you are a victim of domestic abuse:

Anyone who is immediate danger is advised to call 999. If they are unable to speak, the ‘Silent Solution system’ enables a 999 mobile caller who is too scared to make a noise, or speak, when prompted by the call handler, to press 55 to inform police they are in a genuine emergency.

Whilst the police will not be able to track your mobile phone’s location by pressing 55 during the phone call, it will let the phone operator know that this is not a hoax call and you will be put through to the police.

If you call 999 from a landline, the Silent Solution system is not used as it is less likely that 999 calls are made by accident.

Many services have online chat or text messaging services if you are unable to speak on the phone.

Victims can walk into pharmacies across the UK using the code word ‘ANI’ and will be offered a quiet and private space by a member of staff who can support them;

The Help Hand signal – the signal is performed by holding one hand up with the thumb tucked into the palm, then folding the four other fingers down, symbolically trapping the thumb in the rest of the fingers.


Saira Khan: ‘Growing up, I thought domestic abuse was part of our culture and normal’

When I was thrust into the media spotlight after being on The Apprentice in 2005, I vowed to use my platform to talk about life growing up in Britain.

From a young age I felt that while I was British – born and educated here – I was not represented.

At times, it felt like Asian matters were dealt with by unelected community leaders, while the rest of the population was accounted for by laws and MPs.

Many women like me, who try to straddle two distinct cultures, see and experience things that others never do – arranged marriages, forced marriages, child brides, cultural control.

Many come here from places like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, with no knowledge of the language, and are forced to be dutiful maids at the mercy of the families they have been married into

This is a generalisation but, from what I saw growing up, it was a regular norm. That is my truth.

Some people accuse me of only highlighting negative stories from the South Asian culture.

The trolls come out in force, some issuing death threats, in the hope I will just shut up.

But I have always made a stand for the women in my community because so many can’t speak up.

They don’t know who to talk to without feeling judged. And they could be ­ostracised – or killed – for dishonouring their families.

The guilt bestowed upon Asian women from birth is indescribable. You learn to live with it but that guilt shapes every aspect of your life.

And it keeps the misogyny alive.

MPs don’t want to discuss the abuse in case they’re accused of being racist. But silence results in innocent women being abused, violated and murdered.

I grew up thinking it was acceptable for men to shout at women and that hitting is part of our culture and normal.

It isn’t. It’s domestic abuse and there are laws in this country to protect us from it.

We need this message to infiltrate all communities in Britain.


Mayra Zulfiquar, a UK resident of Pakistani origin, found dead in Lahore ‘after refusing to marry a man’

Police in the Pakistan city of Lahore are hunting for two men over the murder of a UK resident they had each reportedly been pressurising to marry them.

The suspects are being hunted as a close friend of Mayra Zulfiquar has told Sky News how the victim’s parents are struggling to come to terms with their daughter’s death.

Ms Zulfiquar, a 24-year-old law graduate of Pakistani origin who is a Belgian national, was found dead with bullet wounds in her rented flat after four men, including the two chief suspects, were believed to have broken in early on Monday.

Sky correspondent Mark White has said Ms Zulfiquar was buried in a funeral service in Lahore this morning in accordance with Islamic tradition.

Her parents flew out to the city from Feltham, in west London, to attend the service.

Their daughter had travelled to Pakistan for a wedding two months ago and had decided to stay, the English-language newspaper Dawn has reported.

Police have detained two men for questioning over the death as they hunt for another two suspects.

Punjab police superintendent Sidra Khan, citing an initial post-mortem report, told Dawn that Ms Zulfiquar had two bullet wounds – one to her neck and another to her arm – and had bled to death.

Bruises were found on her right hand and left foot.

Police said they have opened a first information report (FIR) on the case after receiving a complaint from Ms Zulfiquar’s uncle, Lahore resident Mohammad Nazeer.

The FIR said Mr Nazeer found his niece’s body after receiving a phone call from her father in London to say she had been killed.


Covid: The never-ending lockdown of witness protection

“You don’t get to say goodbye to anyone, you don’t get to phone them up and say ‘oh by the way I’m going into witness protection, I’m not going to speak to you’.”

Self-isolation and reduced contact with friends and family has been a necessity during the pandemic, but for some people it’s a never-ending reality.

The BBC was given extremely rare access to someone in the closely-guarded and secretive UK Protected Persons Service (UKPPS).

For more than 20 years, Sian (not her real name) says she was a victim of horrendous, sustained, physical and sexual domestic violence.

As a result, she and her children now live in “witness protection” conditions in a state of enforced separation and anonymity.

Having grown up with abuse throughout her childhood, Sian was a teenager when she met the man she would later marry.

But things quickly took a dark turn.

At first it was sexual violence,” she said, pausing briefly after every few words.

“But then physical violence crept in. Within three weeks he was raping me. That led to two decades of domestic violence.”

Things got worse after Sian had children.

But – after a particularly traumatic experience – she sought medical help and that led to wider involvement from the authorities – the police deemed the risk to her life was so severe, she had to enter the protected persons service right away.

Life changed immediately.

She and her children were moved to another part of the UK and, to all intents and purposes, dropped off the face of the earth to many people they knew. They were given new identities and asked to start over.

“There’s always this constant reminder of what has happened and where we are, so that will never leave us,” she told me, hesitating.

“Your old life stopped and your new life has started. You live ‘normal’, which is normal for us, but not for anybody else.”

It’s not just witnesses of serious crime that are part of the UKPPS.

It is also for people like Sian, where the threat on their life is so severe, there is no other option.


Super complaint’ launched against police by Teesside charity to combat ‘systemic issue’

A charity says critical failures have severely damaged the effectiveness of police investigations of sexual abuse affecting BAME complainants

A Teesside charity has filed a “super complaint” against alleged systemic mishandling of sexual abuse cases by police forces – including Cleveland Police.

Tees Valley Inclusion Project and its charity the Halo Project, based on Teesside, supports women and girls facing illegal cultural harms

This includes honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The charity says police forces are perpetuating an environment which makes it harder for people in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community to report sexual abuse.

The super complaint details nine ‘key failures’ in police responses to reports of sexual abuse within the BAME community.

It claims these severely damage the effectiveness of police investigations and harms confidence in the police’s commitment to properly investigate serious allegations.

Halo Project is one of 16 super complaints bodies in the country and one of two designated BAME super complaints bodies.

The super complaint is called “Invisible Survivors – The Long Wait For Justice,”and the charity has been collecting evidence and data for several years.

Yasmin Khan, chief executive of Halo Project said: “Our main mission at Halo is to protect and support those facing honour-based violence issues such as sexual and domestic abuse, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

“This systemic issue in our policing system significantly affects the interests of the public and it must be addressed.”

Filing the report to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Halo Project says it wants to work with the police forces to create a safer environment for both BAME communities and the wider public.

Ms Khan added: “Our aim is to work with the police and other bodies to develop a national action plan, based upon the key recommendations within our super complaint.

“We hope to be working closely and positively with the police and the wider criminal justice system to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”

Halo Project recommends that the police “establish an independent national BAME reference group to include survivors who can identify the key areas of improvement for investigations in the future”.

It adds: “The project is committed to ensuring the voices within the super-complaint are not forgotten and we learn from their experiences.”

There are approximately 12 reported honour killings per year in the UK with national statistics showing that South Asian females under the age of 24 are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts.

Halo Project aims to raise awareness in order for to victims feel able to seek help at an earlier stage and the relevant agencies intervene more quickly to prevent abuse from taking place.

Teesside Live has contacted Cleveland Police and the College of Policing for comment.


In depth report: Jessica Patel’s hellish life at hands of the lying monster she called husband

Mitesh Patel’s sperm reduction pills, cheating, humiliation, isolation and violence towards his wife – an extensive look into the murder case that shocked Teesside

A sad string of callous and cruel abuse led to the brutal murder of a loving pharmacist.

Jessica Patel was just 34 when her life was ended by her cheating husband Mitesh Patel in May 2018. 

And a review into her death has shone a light on the years of physical assaults, controlling behaviour and suffering she faced before her evil husband strangled her with a Tesco bag for life. 

Work is underway to learn lessons from Jessica’s murder – including more work to examine the signs of “honour based violence”, a review of the help offered to “diverse communities”, and a recommendation urging the Home Office to look at how small family-owned businesses can deal with signs of domestic abuse.

A 74-page domestic homicide review by the Middlesbrough Community Safety Partnership was published on Monday with the help of Jessica’s family – offering detailed insight into what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. 

Mitesh Patel had plotted to murder Jessica, claim £2m from a raft of insurance policies and start a new life with his gay lover in Australia. 

But the review reported how Jessica had suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of Mitesh both in the home and at work. 

String of long-term domestic abuse

Jessica’s family listed a string of examples of domestic abuse and “controlling and coercive behaviour” which were highlighted in the probe. 

They included how Jessica had told her younger sister how Mitesh had “hit her in the car” in disagreements over Jessica being stopped from seeing more of her dying grandfather. 

Another example told how Jessica “stopped speaking up about things” and “appeared scared” when it came to committing to attending family events.

“Missed opportunity”

Both Jessica and Mitesh were registered with the same GP practice in Middlesbrough and both were well-known to the surgery as their pharmacy was closely linked.

The probe found Mitesh’s behaviour remained “hidden from agencies” and it was only when Mitesh killed Jessica sparking a police investigation that the jigsaw of “appalling behaviour” was revealed from the testimony of colleagues and family.

Jessica visited her GP and told how she was suffering anxiety and was under pressure because she could not conceive in April 2016 which led to a referral for cognitive therapy.  

But the homicide review found that the GP not asking questions about Jessica’s potential domestic abuse was a “missed opportunity” to uncover what was going on.  

The probe also detailed how Mitesh had intimate relationships with a number of men during the time he was married to Jessica.

Jessica was born into a large Hindu community in Leeds and was described by her family as being a quiet, innocent and “good girl” who wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

Both Jessica and Mitesh knew each other as children before meeting again when they were older.

Among the lessons from the tragedy, the independent review found Jessica’s murder was an “honour killing” given wider “cultural beliefs about sexuality” and was an example of something that might have been perceived as adultery and immoral behaviour within the Hindu community. 

The report added: “Divorce on the grounds that Mitesh was gay could never have been a reason for him to end his marriage.

“Consequently, the only way that Mitesh may have felt able to leave the marriage with honour was by killing Jessica

“Jessica did nothing that was, or might be perceived, as dishonourable.

“However, her death at the hands of Mitesh should be considered an honour killing because Mitesh killed her to try and protect his own honour.”


Everytime I went to bed I would cry and cry’: How mum escaped husband’s terrifying abuse during lockdown

A mum has praised a Teesside charity for helping her to escape emotional abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.

The woman, who does not want to be named, said her husband would shout, scream and swear at her on a daily basis.

The mum-of-two said she was left feeling so scared and down that she would cry herself to sleep every night.

She rang The Halo Project in Middlesbrough for help and they gave her support during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Their service gave her the strength to leave and start a new life with her children.

The woman, in her 20s, said: “At the beginning it was a love story then he started shouting at me and swearing at me.

“There was no respect at all. When there’s no respect it’s not love.

“He started shouting in front of the kids.

“When I went out with my friends he kept ringing me saying ‘come back, come back’

“When I came back he would ask where did you go or why did you go shopping.

“He complained about everything I did.

“He didn’t care about my feelings.

“I was really down, I was looking at my life and how it was before.

“I didn’t know what to do. Every time I went to bed I would cry and cry.”

The woman said she discovered The Halo Project while searching the internet for local services.

She said she contacted them because she didn’t want her children to grow up in that environment.

The woman said the charity supported her through the lockdown and helped her to become independent

She said: “I was really down and I needed someone to help me – to push me, to show me and advise me.

“It was really hard in the house. I was stuck in and I had to stay in during the evening.

“I couldn’t make danger for my kids – I had to wait until lockdown became easier.

“I talked to Halo during the lockdown. They were telling me what to do and were in contact through the phone.

“They offered me refuge but because of lockdown it would be too hard.

“I managed to find a place and they helped me to get my benefits from the government.

“Halo are still helping me everyday.

“Now I’m an independent woman with two kids. I feel better in myself.

“There’s no shouting, no swearing, just a normal life.”

The Halo Project provides support and, where necessary, intervention to protect those on Teesside at risk of honour-based violence and forced marriage.


‘Police must notice signs of honour-based abuse

A CHARITY which deals with honour kill­ings in south Asian communities has warned that more women will die unless the authorities become proactive in notic­ing the signs of domestic abuse.

The warning from Middlesbrough-based Halo Project comes after a ‘domestic homi­cide review’ of the murder of pharmacist Jessica Patel concluded that she should have been asked whether her husband was violent towards her.

Yasmin Khan, founder and director of the Halo Project, who was part of the review team, told Eastern Eye that it was clear that some in the room did not understand the concept of ‘honour killings’.

“They said Jessica didn’t do anything to bring shame and dishonour on the family or community so it couldn’t have been an hon­our killing,” she said. “I said, ‘exactly, it was her husband and he was trying to silence her from bringing shame and dishonour because of what he was doing was a per­ceived cultural taboo.”

Mitesh Patel was jailed for life after he was convicted of the murder of his wife Jes­sica. He had strangled and suffocated her with a Tesco carrier bag in a staged break-in at their home in Middlesbrough in May 2018 because he wanted to start a new life with his male lover in Australia. In the end, the panel agreed it was an ‘honour killing’.

Khan said the police and other authori­ties do not investigate domestic abuse through the lens of honour-based violence as a matter of course. Last week Eastern Eye revealed that her organisation had begun a super complaint against the Home Office over the way forces investigate crimes in south Asian communities.

“This is not about beating people up. This is about making people change. It’s about accepting your responsibilities about what you need to do. You need to know what the signs are, you need to recognise that no -one is going to come and say, ‘I suffer from honour-based violence’.”

Authorities, she said, often take the less difficult option when solving crimes.

“If they don’t class it as honour-based abuse, and class it as domestic abuse, it’s an easier route. It goes to a particular agency, and it follows a pathway,” she said.

“If it’s honour-based violence, the public body has to do something which is already ordinarily difficult, and when they don’t know what they have to deal with, they’re going to take the simple way.”

The review, commissioned by the Mid­dlesbrough Community Safety Partnership in line with Home Office guidance, con­cluded the killing could not have been pre­dicted, but awareness of the warning signs of domestic abuse needed to be raised.

The chair of the Community Safety Part­nership, councillor Mieka Smiles said, “Jes­sica was not involved with many agencies prior to her death, but we learned that there is more we can do both locally and nation­ally for victims of domestic abuse, specifi­cally those from BAME communities.

“That includes increasing understanding of ‘honour-based’ violence and ensuring that family, friends, employers and the wid­er community know how to recognise the signs, report their concerns and support those in need.”

In a statement, Jessica’s family said, “As a family this review was an extremely painful process, but we recognise the importance of highlighting Jessica’s story to provide a voice for her and others that may be suffering in silence. So this act of evil is not repeated, we encourage everyone to ask questions and never assume everything is ok.”

Khan said that unless things changed more women would die, classed as victims of domestic abuse.

“They’re going to die in hidden numbers because we don’t know the real scale of honour killings,” she warned.

“We’ve been touted figures of 12 or 15 honour killings per year for the past seven years. But what about the people who report loved ones missing, or those who’re mur­dered abroad? If they’re involved in a mur­der, are they going to report it? No, they’re not. There are no national bodies who will challenge the authorities.”

Girl, 17, almost forced by parents into marrying man nearly twice her age

For most young people, turning 18 is one of the most significant moments and one to celebrate.

But for one school girl from Nottinghamshire, this was set to be the darkest day of her life.

The girl, aged 17 at the time, had been told by her parents that she would be forced into marrying a man nearly twice her age on the day she turned 18.

The teenager, who wants to remain anonymous, was to have no say over whom she was to spend the rest of her life with, let alone knowing if she had anything in common with this man ahead of marrying him.

The expectation of her family was that the girl would marry this man and be forced into having children with him – no questions asked.

Luckily for this 17-year-old, help was at hand after she was able to tell teachers at her school what was intended for her.

That was when Nottinghamshire Police stepped in to support her.

The force’s dedicated honour-based abuse team attended her school alongside social care colleagues, and she disclosed to them that her parents had returned from Pakistan and arranged for her to marry a 30-year-old man.

The teen had been diagnosed with autism, making it difficult for her to express herself with strangers.

However, she eventually disclosed to police hat her parents had arranged a marriage for her 18th birthday.

The marriage was to a man who she had never met, who was a relative of her father.

Her nightmare ordeal was finally over late in 2018 when a court order was served on both her parents and the teenager was taken into care due to the risk of harm she faced.

Charity The Halo Project, which supports victims of forced marriages, also warned at the start of lockdown that these sort of crimes could increase during the pandemic.

Charities pointed to an increase in victims reaching out to them and warned that parents could now be planning to take children abroad for weddings against their will – as soon as laws on self-isolation for 14 days on return to Britain are scrapped.

Halo Project founder Yasmin Khan echoed the concerns, describing forced marriage as “disguising a multitude of harms” and something that can be arranged “extremely quickly.”

She said there had been a 63 per cent rise in referrals to the charity between March and May, adding that school closures had exacerbated the situation.


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