FGM: the law is failing
- 1 Article
- Age 28
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been a crime in the UK since 1985 (the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985) and has since been revised and renamed to reflect the nature of the crime (Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003). Yet 65,000 girls under the age of 13 remain at risk, without a successful prosecution in 30 years to protect these girls.
The law is failing as it is currently enacted. This is because girls are often the daughters of those who organise the ceremony; related to those who perpetrate the crime. These children are confused, have conflicting loyalties and are scared of losing their parents. As such, the crime goes unreported and continues to be perpetrated. Therefore, it should not be down to these vulnerable girls to report the crimes. There should be other means in force to ensure the protection of those at risk, as well as the victims, of FGM.
In order to protect children before the FGM takes place, there should be an increased use of FGM prevention orders. These orders should be attached to the girl, rather than having to identify any suspected perpetrator. They should have a penal notice attached so that if any individual whatsoever perpetrates FGM on the child, that breach would be punishable with imprisonment. This would have the effect of deterring future perpetrators and further protecting girls.
In addition, professionals such as doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers and social workers should be under an active duty to report such crimes. The professionals must be trained to recognise girls who are at risk of FGM and understand that it is child abuse and as such a grave crime. They must be taught that it is not “cultural” or “traditional”. Any professional who suspects a girl is a victim of FGM must contact the relevant authorities to ensure there is an investigation. This positive duty on responsible adults with knowledge either that a child has suffered FGM or is at risk of becoming another victim would both help deter further the perpetration of the crime and bring those guilty of the crime to account. In order to promote this reporting, there should then be a new limb to the law against FGM added: that where responsible adults fail to report such crimes, or conceal the crimes, those individuals would then be at risk, themselves, of prosecution.
Prosecutions should not rely on testimony from the victims, the majority of whom are very young (sometimes just infants) and disempowered. Instead, discrete courts should be used to receive confidential evidence from professionals. However, if it did become necessary for an FGM victim to give evidence the “special measures” that are currently employed for children and sexual abuse cases should be explicitly used to ensure protection of the girls giving evidence.
Without a successful prosecution, the law protecting young girls
from FGM is near redundant. However, in making the law more
robust there is the possibility that it would become a genuine
prospect that a perpetrator’s child would be taken into care and
those involved in the FGM (whether through organisation,
perpetration or as a bystander) would be sent to prison. Only in
that state would the law against FGM have a significant deterrent
effect and do its job of protecting young girls from this form of