FGM/C Shifting Sands

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Operation Limelight uncritically awarded for FGM work

Published 18 November 2019 Associated Categories Responses
Border Force and Metropolitan Police operation ‘highly commended’ at ‘World Class Policing Awards’

A joint operation between police and Border Forces has been highly commended, not criticised, at the World Class Policing Awards. The nomination was based on an ‘Operation Limelight & US/UK Proclamation of Interagency Support for FGM Investigations’ application.

While the Gov.UK press release (reproduced below) usefully includes the number of FGM Protection Orders issued since 2015 – 418, its important to note that not all are linked to Operation Limelight’s work. And despite four years of use, there is still no detailed public information to help assess the usefulness, or not, of these Protection Orders.

Data for Forced Marriage Protection Orders issued was also supplied: 2149 since 2008. Again not all are linked to the work of the Operation.

The judging panel said that Operation Limelight was ‘a major safeguarding operation that has warned (and possibly deterred) many thousands of suspects and victims and has now been replicated across multiple US cities’.

Evidence was not cited (nor, I suspect, offered/required) to justify these assertions. And presumably the judging panel did not contemplate the damage being caused by the Operation, some of which I’ve written about here and here. Nor did they consider the problems caused by FGM ‘awareness raising’ generally and about which I’ve written here and here.

The press release says:

“Operation Limelight focuses on raising awareness of forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) at the border and safeguarding potential victims.

This summer, Operation Limelight focused on flights between the UK and destinations where there is a high prevalence of forced marriage. The operation involved engaging with airport staff and the general public on how to spot potential signs of abuse and how to report their concerns. Intelligence was also used to identify potential victims entering or leaving the country.

As part of the operation, the UK worked closely with counterparts in the United States to run corresponding operations at US airports.

The judging panel said that Operation Limelight was ‘a major safeguarding operation that has warned (and possibly deterred) many thousands of suspects and victims and has now been replicated across multiple US cities’.

Tim Kingsberry, Regional Director at Border Force said:

We are naturally delighted with this award which recognises the progress that we have made through joint working between Border Force and the Metropolitan Police.

FGM and forced marriage are abhorrent crimes which we are committed to tackling both here in the UK and also through our ongoing work with overseas partners.

The joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit provided support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,764 cases in 2018. The cases dealt with came from 74 different countries.

As at June 2019, 2149 Forced Marriage Protection Orders and 418 FGM Protection Orders have been made since their introduction (2008 and 2015 respectively) and in February the first person was convicted of FGM in the UK.

Following operations in the UK, the USA adopted Limelight as an intervention tactic, delivered in 14 US cities in 2019. This led to the development of the Proclamation of Interagency Support for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) Investigations Between UK and US Law Enforcement, signed at the US Embassy on 30 August 2018, a far-reaching agreement for US and UK law enforcement to share intelligence to enhance our knowledge of, and response to FGM.

Inspector Allen Davis, Metropolitan Police lead for Operation Limelight, said:

Harmful practices such as FGM and forced marriage are global issues that have considerable local impact.

Operation Limelight seeks to raise awareness of harmful practices, identify vulnerability and safeguard those at risk and I am extremely pleased that it has been recognised by the World Class Policing Awards.”

Update Dec 2019

To help readers assess how the Border Force sells itself, read this evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee Scotland regarding the proposed Female Genital Mutilation Bill, October 2019.

Update February 2020

On 24 Jan 2020 The Home Office and Border Force published guidance for police and Border Force staff taking part in Operation Limelight. The describe it as a multi-agency safeguarding operation at the UK border responding to female genital mutilation (FGM).


ICE, FBI recognize International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

In 2017, the HRVWCC (Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center) initiated Operation Limelight USA, a program designed to bring awareness of FGM/C to passengers flying to countries where FGM/C is prevalent, to identify potential victims and perpetrators of FGM and to deter its practice. Since June 2017, 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in partnership with non-governmental organizations, FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and others have conducted outreach operations at 18 U.S. airports and have engaged with nearly 4,000 passengers on 168 flights.


ICE recognizes International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

“On this day we remember the women and girls who have been impacted by this horrific practice and commit ourselves to working together to end it,” said Mark Shaffer, chief of ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. “FGM is a human rights violation and a crime that requires a global effort to address. We stand with our domestic and international partners as we work together to support survivors and prevent the victimization of more women and girls.”


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About the Author -

Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.


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