30,000 petition to save Australian toddler

Fatoumata Binta Conteh, who has fled from relatives with her mother, Fatoumata Diarriou Bah. Photo: Supplied The letter from a Victorian girl addressed to the government. Photo: Supplied

Australian toddler fleeing genital mutilationGovernment helps girl fleeing mutilationAustralians support toddler fleeing mutilation

​For a child it’s impossible to understand why anyone would harm Fatoumata Binta the way her family wants to.

When an eight-year-old Victorian girl saw a photograph of the toddler in the newspaper just before Christmas, she asked her mum who the “cute girl” in the picture was.

The child was told how the Australian-African three-year-old had run away from people trying to hurt her: how she has spent months hiding from them; and how, although she has the right to come to Australia, her mother does not.

She wasn’t told about female genital mutilation, the barbaric procedure the young girl’s family are trying to force on her. But she was still troubled by the story.

In a letter to the federal government, the child asks that Fatoumata Binta and her mother be brought to “our country”. She offers to share her toys and she promises to be nice.

“I have lots of toys, CDs and clothes that I can share, and I have a big bed and Fatoumata can sleep with me and her mum can sleep with my mum,” she writes.

“I promise that I will be so nice to them and my grandma is a relly [sic] nice cooker and they must be hungry and grandma can make food for them straight away.”

Pressure is mounting on the federal government to do more to help Fatoumata Binta, who remains in limbo in Africa with her mother, seven weeks after officials were told of their struggle.

Almost 30,000 people have now signed a Change.org petition calling on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to urgently bring the pair to Australia.

It follows Labor and the Green’s calls for immediate action and a statement from the Australian Human Rights Commission detailing the government’s responsibility under international treaties to do everything in its power to protect children at risk of female genital mutilation.

As revealed by The Age in November, the mother and daughter crossed the border from Guinea to Sierra Leone after escaping from relatives who tried to kidnap the toddler and force her to undergo the ancient ritual.

They were initially put up in safe house organised by the Australian government, but it is now unknown what action officials are taking to assist the young mother and her child. The government said it was “continuing to provide consular assistance” but refuses to give any details about the case.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bishop said DFAT was working with the family to “address a number of issues”.

Fatoumata Binta is an Australian citizen by descent on her father’s side but it is understood there are complications because her mother, who is also a victim and has few rights after fleeing from her family, does not have a visa.

Last week they left Freetown and travelled to another African nation, where they remain in hiding. The cost of their flights and accommodation were paid for with money raised through a crowd-funding campaign launched in Australia.

Paula Ferrari, co-founder of No FGM Australia, said the family was being kept in a “holding pattern” and questioned the reasons for the delay in providing assistance. “It’s pretty appalling, really,” she said. “It should not be taking this long to get this little Australian girl to safety and back to Australia.”

Ms Bah’s brother Ibrahima, who lives in China and has been trying to raise awareness about the case, said his sister had met with Australian officials but had not been told whether they would be given assistance or how much longer they would be forced to wait.

“We are just still waiting to hear from them [the government],” he said.

Advocates have been inundated with calls pledging support for the family, with offers of food, furniture, clothing and accommodation if they are brought to Australia.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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