FGM and the Golden Rule

When Binta Jobe [not her real name] was nine, she was taken into the Gambian bush where she suffered female genital mutilation at the hands of an amateur surgeon without anaesthetic. She is now a 23-year-old asylum seeker in the UK, trying to prevent her three-year-old daughter from a similar experience if she is forcibly returned to the Gambia.

FGM is legal in the Gambia, and UNICEF estimates that nearly 4/5 of the female population are subjected to it. Jobe is illiterate and untrained, and if she were returned to her homeland she would most probably soon be discovered by her family, who would arrange FGM for her daughter.

Jobe’s application is supported by academic evidence from Professor Sylvia Chant at the LSE, an expert on the Gambia. And yet the courts have now supported the UK Border Agency’s rejection of her application, on the ground that she will be able to live safely under legal protection in the Gambia.

This prediction is clearly absurd. Of course, the court has some evidence in favour of its conclusion; but there is a good deal of evidence against. The best that might be said is that is not unlikely that Jobe and her daughter will not be persecuted. In other words, the court is putting her, and more importantly her daughter, at substantial risk of serious harm.

The court’s decision seems a good example of a failure to observe the Golden Rule: do as you would be done by. Of course, quite how to understand the Golden Rule isn’t entirely clear. It can’t be permitted to rule out any treatment of others to which they don’t consent. But the question it requires the judges in this case to answer is whether they sincerely believe that, were they to be placed in Jobe’s position, deportation would be the morally best option. And if they do sincerely believe that, it seems to me that they would be guilty of a kind of unsympathetic fanaticism inappropriate in a member of our judiciary.

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