This case study was written for Together’s 2016 ‘State of Children’s Rights’ report by Dr Emma Plant, formerly a Project Worker for Bright Choices at SACRO. Bright Choices is a partnership between SACRO, the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC) and the Multicultural Family Base (MCFB). The service helps men, women, children, families and communities in Edinbrugh affected by Honour Abuse. A range of services is provided, including 1-1 and group emotional and practical support, engagement, advocacy, training, mediation and restorative practices. Bright Choices is Funded by the Big Lottery. The case study headlined the report chapter for Violence Against Children.
Honour-Based Violence (HBV) is presented by perpetrators as punishment for undermining what are believed to be the correct codes of behaviour amongst certain communities. These traditional codes of behaviour are different for men and women. Whereas men can add to a family or community’s honour, women can only detract from it. Therefore, women bear the brunt of HBV. This gender imbalance is so pronounced and interwoven with patriarchal social structures that HBV is now viewed by the United Nations as a specific type of violence against women.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one form of HBV practised by communities in Scotland. It is nearly always performed on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. The practice also violates rights to health – particularly sexual health, security and the physical integrity of the person; the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the right to life when the procedure results in death. While the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 allows for general child protection orders to be sought in suspected cases of FGM, unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland does not have specific FGM Protection Orders which would offer the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM under civil law (see here for more information).
There has been a fivefold increase in the number of children born into FGM-affected communities in Scotland over the last decade. Children at risk face significant obstacles to accessing help, including their young age, language difficulties, cultural pressures, lack of understanding about their rights, distrust of mainstream services and inadequate or uninformed responses by mainstream services.
Providing a bridge between vulnerable children and families most likely to be affected and hard to access mainstream services, Bright Choices HBV support service is working to protect children from such harmful traditional practices. Zaiha (3) and Amira (5) were referred to Bright Choices with their mother, Bahar, for emotional and practical support in October 2015. Zaiha and Amira’s father abandoned their family when Zaiha was born but has recently been trying to gain legal access to them. He has made it clear that he had already made concrete plans to have his girls married and wished for them to first undergo FGM because he thought ‘…it is better for men to have a pure woman’.
In addition to providing emotional support for the family Bright Choices, liaising with the police, arranged for an alarm to be fitted in the girls’ home. The service also communicated with the UK passport office and the local passport offices in the father’s country of origin to ensure that the two girls are not issued new passports or taken out of the country by abduction. Lastly the service also liaised with Citizen’s Advice to ensure that Zaiha and Amira’s father cannot withdraw money from their child benefit. This combination of culturally-sensitive practical and emotional support has, in the case of these two girls, had very positive results:
I have hope now and I no longer feel that I live in a fog. I can see clearly, I can breathe and I know that myself and my children have the whole life ahead of us and we can be happy. That is thanks to the Bright Choices – Zaiha & Amira’s mother, Edinburgh 2016.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised concern about the ‘high prevalence of domestic violence and gender-based violence’ in the UK including Scotland. The Committee made a number of recommendations including those related to so-called ‘honour based’ violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriages and ‘honour’ crimes. Violence against women and girls can have both an immediate and long-lasting impact on the women, girls and children directly involved, and can affect their lives in multiple and complex ways. See Together’s State of Children’s Rights 2016 report, page 71 for more information.