Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is mainly practiced in African countries as a coming of age ritual. FGM is seen as part of a religious or cultural practice to preserve a young girl’s purity. The communities in which it is practiced do not view it as a barbaric tradition. An uncut girl is not only treated as an outcast by the men in the community but also by other women.
FGM was first criminalised in the UK under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. This was (at best) a very brief piece of legislation which criminalised FGM with imprisonment of up to 5 years. In 2003 the new FGM Act was enacted, this is a more comprehensive piece of legislation, which includes FGM Protection Orders. The new Act now carries a lengthier sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment.
For legislation which is almost 35 years old – from the initial 1985 Act – you would expect there to be a long list of convictions. If you thought this… you would be wrong. There has only been one successful conviction in the UK for FGM; in February 2019, an Ugandan mother was convicted of having FGM performed on her three-year-old daughter. Although, she did deny the offence, the mother was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, to date the only conviction for FGM.
Unfortunately, the above case is unpublished. Therefore, I cannot provide you with an accurate reference as to the precise arguments made to the judge by prosecution and defence counsel. This one and only conviction would leave you with the impression that FGM practices are virtually non-existent in the UK. This is not the case.
The ‘Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Enhanced Dataset January 2019 to March 2019’ published by NHS Digital shows that a total of 39,955 females were reported to have undergone FGM procedures. These figures are taken from April 2015 to March 2019. These individuals were reported as they had been identified by NHS doctors and GPs has having undergone one of the four types of FGM. The data shows that cases of women and children who have undergone FGM are still coming out of the woodwork. Why then has there only been a single conviction?
Perhaps it’s due to the introduction of FGM Protection Orders in July 2015. The FGMPO acts as a preventative measure, to stop FGM from being carried out on young girls. FGMPOs have been added under Schedule 2 of the FGM Act 2003. The conditions which can be attached to the Order include surrendering passports, safe return of a girl from outside of the UK, or any other condition to reduce the likelihood of FGM.
Since its creation in 2015, there has been 547 FGM Protection Orders made in the courts of England and Wales. A disproportionate number, when compared to the number of FGM cases NHS workers are reporting. In May 2020, Sudan followed suit and banned the practice of FGM. We can only hope that the ban is more effective in bringing successful convictions in Sudan. I hope that the FGM ban introduced by 59 other countries is more effective than the UK legislation.
If you are interested in understanding more about FGM and the lifelong impact it has on women, please take a look at some of the following links:
If you are interested in the reasoning behind why FGM is performed, you can watch Jaha Dukureh’s documentary with The Guardian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAQldouaOLE
By Saira Shani