Written by Classical Liberal
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – also known as female circumcision – is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.
According to Equality Now and City University, London, an estimated 103,000 women and girls aged 15-49 were thought to be living with FGM in England and Wales as of 2011. The first successful conviction was that of a Ugandan mother who was found guilty on 1st February 2019. Why did it take so long to secure the first conviction? Is this yet another example of how the UK government is failing to protect young girls because of the pernicious doctrine of cultural relativism?
FGM is found in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living today in thirty countries – twenty-seven African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Yemen – have undergone the procedure. Typically carried out by a traditional ‘circumciser’ using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. Most girls are cut before the age of five. The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty.
FGM is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour, and who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion. Adverse health effects can include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding.
There have been international efforts since the 1970s to persuade practitioners to abandon FGM, and it has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, although the laws are poorly enforced. Since 2010, the UN has called upon healthcare providers to stop performing the procedure.
The opposition to the practice is not without its critics, particularly among anthropologists who have raised questions about cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.
FGM was outlawed in the UK by the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which made it an offence to perform FGM on children or adults. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 made it an offence to arrange FGM outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents, whether or not it is lawful in the country to which the girl is taken.
In 1993 a councillor of the London Borough of Brent proposed a motion that FGM should be legalised and made available on the NHS. According to Ann John, a councillor who opposed the motion, the motion called for FGM to be classed as a ‘right specifically for African families who want to carry on their tradition whilst living in this country’. John said she suffered verbal attacks, including threats that she herself would be mutilated. Interviewed in 2014, she said she believed her treatment had deterred people for years from opposing FGM in case they were accused of racism. The motion was defeated.
In 2007 the FGM National Clinical Group was created to train health professionals in how to deal with the practice. Concern about FGM in the UK increased significantly in the mid-2010s. In November 2013 a coalition of Royal Colleges, trade unions, and Equality Now produced a report, ‘Tackling FGM in the UK’.
Britain’s first specialist clinic for child victims of FGM opened in London in 2014. Since April 2014 all NHS hospitals have recorded whether a patient has undergone FGM or have a family history of it, and all acute hospitals are obliged to report this data to the Department of Health on a monthly basis. According to the first official figures published on the numbers of FGM cases seen by hospitals in England, over 1,700 women and girls who have undergone FGM were treated by the NHS between April-October 2014.
The city with the highest percentage of FGM in 2015 was London, at a rate of 28.2 per 1,000 women aged 15-49. The borough with the highest rate was Southwark at 57.5 per 1,000 women. Mainly rural areas of the UK had prevalence rates below 1 per 1,000.
In 2015 police acquired the UK’s first FGM protection order. This was acquired under a new law, the Serious Crime Act 2015, which allows such protection orders. It also allows the combating of FGM by judges remanding people in custody, ordering mandatory medical checks, and instructing girls believed to be at risk of FGM to live at a certain address so authorities can see whether they have been mutilated.
In the April 2016-March 2017 period the NHS attended 9,179 cases. Only 26% of the victims reported the country in which the crime took place, but of those who did 1,229 cases took place in Africa and 57 were perpetrated in the UK. No prosecutions were brought.
As of 2015 there had been no convictions in the UK for performing or arranging FGM. By comparison, in France over 100 parents and two practitioners had been prosecuted by 2014 in forty criminal cases. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern in July 2013 that there had been no FGM-related convictions in the UK. The committee asked the government to ‘ensure the full implementation of its legislation on FGM’.
The first charges were announced in March 2014 versus a doctor, for having performed FGM on a woman from Somalia who had just given birth at the Whittington Hospital in north London. Another man was charged with aiding and abetting in the same case. During the trial in January 2015 the doctor said he had performed a simple figure-of-eight stitch to stem bleeding following the birth. Both men were found not guilty on 4th February 2015.
Another doctor in Birmingham was struck off the medical register in 2014 after discussing how to arrange FGM with an undercover journalist in 2012.
The first successful conviction was that of a Ugandan mother who was found guilty on 1st February 2019 and sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Why did it take so long to secure the first conviction? I agree with Ann John, people are deterred from opposing FGM in case they are accused of racism. What a truly pathetic political class and judiciary we have, if they cannot even protect young girls from such obvious abuse. No excuses should be made. They are complicit in mass child abuse.