When FGM Laws Work, Can The UK Reach Zero FGM Incidence By 2030?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been a significant impediment to achieving the Global Declaration of ‘Health for All’ and, more importantly, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goals 3, 4 & 5 on the health and well-being of women and girls. FGM advocacy has grown due to its effect on girls and women regarding their overall physical, mental, and social well-being. Individual and group efforts to eliminate this practice have met with varying success across the globe, with the availability of effective policies and laws becoming an essential factor in ending FGM campaigns. The constant improvement of existing laws is also important to ensure that women and girls can be protected. The United Kingdom is an example of a society that strives to improve its laws and policies to protect women and girls from FGM.

Statistics on FGM in the UK

In the UK, FGM is widely recognized as a public health and safety concern; research studies have shown that over 6,000 instances of FGM are performed annually across the UK (NHS, 2018), commonly in immigrant communities from countries where FGM is still practised. In addition, local authority areas are likely to have women and girls affected or potentially at risk of FGM.

The Guardian news website reviewed FGM statistics in one of their articles, stating that the Health and Social Care Information Centre documented 5,700 new cases of female genital mutilation in England from April 2015- March 2016. The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) enhanced dataset annual report review for April 2019 – March 2020 in England focused on attendance between April 2019 and March 2020, with additional data on attendance between April 2015 and March 2020. According to the statistics, FGM was identified in over 6,590 individual women and girls. 

There were 11,895 attendances reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was detected. The total number of attendees in 2019-2020 has remained broadly stable, though the number of distinct individuals decreased in the year’s final quarter. Five years ago, the FGM Enhanced Dataset was launched. Since the collection began, NHS trusts and GP practices have reported information on about 24,420 individual women and girls with a total of 52,050 attendances where FGM was identified between April 2015 and March 2020. 

UK laws on FGM

The Female Circumcision Act 1985 has an extraterritorial scope that allows individuals to be prosecuted if they perform FGM; aid and abet someone in performing FGM; counsel a person to perform FGM; procure a person to perform FGM; or assist a girl in performing FGM on herself, either within or outside of the UK. The 1985 Act was replaced in 2003 by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which was enacted to give the provisions extraterritorial scope of the practice and close a loophole in the 1985 Act that enabled parents to take their daughters overseas for the procedure. 

The Act’s scope was extended by the Serious Crime Act 2015, which amended the 2003 Act to cover offences committed outside the UK, by UK residents. The amendments also provided victims of FGM with lifelong anonymity and introduced FGM Protection Orders to protect girls who might be or have been subjected to FGM. The practice of FGM is punishable with fourteen yearsā€™ imprisonment and or an unlimited fine. Guardians who also fail to protect girls from FGM may also face punishment up to seven years imprisonment or an unlimited fine. The amendments also created a mandatory duty for healthcare workers, teachers, and social workers to inform the police of FGM performed on girls under 18.

Law in practice

To further commitments to ending FGM, the UK government developed educational and safeguarding resources for professionals and made progressive legislative changes such as a mandatory reporting duty for professionals in England and Wales. As such, if a girl under 18 discloses or is found on examination to have undergone FGM, the professional must report this to the police (Dixon et al., 2018).

In 2019, the UK saw its first FGM conviction with a woman found guilty and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for having her 3-year-old daughter cut. This sends a strong message that existing laws on FGM would be enforced. While more legal steps need to be taken to ensure that survivors are cared for, the precedence shows that the UK is steadfastly ensuring that its laws protect women and girls from FGM. 

By Mercy Kalu

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