Judge orders special arrangements for girl’s Egypt trip amid FGM fears

A High Court judge has said special arrangements must be made to allow a two-year-old girl thought to be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) to travel to Egypt.

Mr Justice Cobb relaxed a travel ban which had prevented the girl’s British Muslim mother taking her out of the UK.

But the judge, who analysed the case at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, imposed strict limits on where the girl can go and how long she can stay.

The girl’s mother is married to an Egyptian who lives in Egypt and is not allowed to travel to Britain.

She wants to take the little girl, who is approaching her third birthday, to Egypt to see her father.

In late 2017, another High Court judge banned the woman from taking her daughter abroad after council social services staff raised concern about the risk of FGM.

Ms Justice Russell made an FGM Protection Order and ruled that the woman could not travel outside the UK with her daughter until the youngster turned 16.

She said the risk to the girl was “so great” that a travel ban had to be imposed.

Appeal judges said that decision should be reviewed and Mr Justice Cobb has now approved a trip to Egypt after reconsidering evidence.

The judge, who outlined his decision in a written ruling published online, said he thought that sufficient safeguards could be put in place to allow the girl to make a “short, and carefully managed” trip to see her father.

He said the girl, who lives with her mother in Hertfordshire, could not be identified in media reports of the case.

The judge ruled:

  • The trip would last for no more than a week;
  • It would take place in term-time so the girl could go back to her nursery when she returned home and be seen by professionals;
  • The girl would spend time with her father in Hurghada, a tourist resort on the Red Sea coast;
  • She could not travel outside Hurghada;
  • She could not meet her “wider paternal family”;
  • She would fly with her mother, and her mother’s father, and they would stay in a “tourist resort hotel”;
  • Court staff already held the girl’s passport and would not release it to the girl’s maternal grandfather until 48 hours before the flight;
  • The girl’s passport would be returned to court staff 48 hours after the trio returned to Britain.

Mr Justice Cobb said he could not lose sight of the fact that he was guarding the girl against FGM – a “heinous form of criminal ill-treatment”.

But he added: “I am nonetheless satisfied that sufficient safeguards can be put in place around (her) to allow for her to have a short, and carefully managed, trip to Egypt.”

Social services staff at Hertfordshire County Council had initially raised concern about the risks of FGM.

Mr Justice Cobb analysed arguments from seven barristers – Hannah Markham QC and James Holmes, who represented Hertfordshire County Council; Nkumbe Ekaney QC and Charlotte Proudman, who represented the girl’s mother; Christopher Hames QC and Alistair Perkins, who represented the girl’s father; and Kate Tompkins, who represented a specialist guardian appointed to protect the girl’s interests – before making a decision.

Foreign Office ministers have been asked to help find a 12-year-old British girl who went missing more than seven years ago and is thought to be living in Egypt.

A judge overseeing Elsa Salama’s case in the Family Division of the High Court earlier this year asked then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for assistance.

Mr Hunt told Mr Justice Mostyn, in a letter, in April that a British Embassy official in Cairo had discussed Elsa’s case with a member of the Egyptian government.

Elsa is at the centre of a battle between her divorced parents.

Egyptian former teacher Tamer Salama took his daughter, then aged four, from her mother Naomi Button in December 2011 while all three were visiting his relatives in Egypt.

Ms Button, a leadership consultant from Leeds, was forced to return to England alone and has not since seen Elsa, who she thinks is living with Salama’s mother in Cairo.

She launched family court litigation after arriving back in the hope of getting Elsa home.

Salama, who subsequently returned to England without Elsa and now lives in Manchester, was jailed in January 2012 for breaching judges’ orders to arrange his daughter’s return to England or to reveal where she was.

But a judge ordered his release in December 2013 after deciding that continuing to keep him in prison was not proportionate.

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