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Archive for August, 2015

Sierra Leone’s secret FGM societies spread silent fear and sleepless nights

When 16-year-old Mariatu* goes to bed at night she is scared of going to sleep. She fears members of powerful, all-female secret societies are going to break into her room with the consent of her parents and kidnap her.

Mariatu has good reason to be afraid. She has already fled her village in northern Sierra Leone to avoid female genital mutilation (FGM) and expects to go on the run again to avoid being cut.

“I am not safe in this house. I’m not safe in this community,” she said. “I am afraid, when I lie down to sleep, that one day they will grab me, tie me up and take me to that place.” She is referring to the “Bondo” bush, an area of secluded forest where FGM takes place.

Mariatu’s story goes to the heart of the challenges for anti-FGM campaigners in Sierra Leone, touching on the silent power of the secret societies, who carry out the cutting as an initiation into the group. It also speaks of the cultural and political significance of the country’s ancient structures.

In an unprecedented step, soweis, the women who hold the most senior rank in the societies, agreed to speak to the Guardian.

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Inside the UK’s worst detention centre: ‘Ten weeks of hell for fleeing forced marriage’

Lucee* was 21 when she left her family and studies in Sierra Leone to come to England, last year.
She felt she had no other options after learning that her father was planning on forcing her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), and then become the second wife to an older man she’d never met.
“FGM is pure wickedness. A friend from my school died three days after she had it. I knew I didn’t want these things my father wanted for me. I don’t ever want to be a second wife, and if I want to marry it would have to be my own choice – not someone else’s,” she told me.
“But the more I tried to tell him I wasn’t doing it because it’s my life, the angrier he got.
“My mum tried to persuade my father as well, but he was aggressive. He told us we couldn’t disobey his order.”

Lucee, who was studying accountancy at university, confided in her aunt who lives in Birmingham. She suggested her niece visit her for a few weeks to escape the situation and let her father calm down. Lucee, now 22, agreed and came to England on a three-month visiting visa.

But a few weeks into her trip, she realised that her father wouldn’t change his mind.“I wanted to give a strong message to my father that I didn’t want to do what he wanted and I hoped he would understand. But when he found out I’d left, he became very aggressive towards my mum and younger sister.“He was more determined that if I came back, I would have FGM and the arranged marriage. He now suspects my mother of helping me [she speaks to Lucee regularly] and says he’ll return her to her [birth] family if he finds out it’s true.“I know if I went back my father would find me and force me to have this.”

‘I was detained’

Lucee’s aunt decided that the her niece should stay in the UK for a longer time period, so she called the Home Office, telling them she wanted to seek asylum.

They set an appointment for 11pm in a centre in Croydon back on September 1 last year, where Lucee would be interviewed.

“My auntie asked them if she could come with me. But they told me to go alone, so my uncle drove me there and waited outside.

“I never came back out.”


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Forced marriage in the UK? It’s a bigger problem than you think

Last month, seven British survivors of ‘honour’ abuse and forced marriage spoke out in public about their experiences. They explained how it felt to be abused by those closest to them – their family and community members – in the name of ‘honour’. This marked the UK’s first ever Day of Memory for victims of ‘honour’ killings.

The survivors spoke about how their families’ rules, or ‘honour’ codes, forbade them from doing things that many of us take for granted, from texting a boy to wearing make-up. They talked about how they were made to feel as though this was normal, and that the abuse that resulted from breaking these ‘honour’ codes was their own fault. Some talked about how they felt as though they had nowhere to go as no one outside their community was listening or willing to believe them.

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