Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation Chapter 6: Legislation and Governance

The UK Parliament has been sporadically concerned with female genital mutilation for almost a century, and British statute goes back three or more decades; but as of early 2015 there still has not been a single successful prosecution concerning any aspect of FGM. The circumstances which have produced this situation are complex, and, as the 2014 Report of the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee1 (the ‘Vaz Report’) demonstrates, responsibility for upholding the law has frequently seemed to be regarded as someone else’s to resolve, whenever any public service professional is asked.

Thus we find ourselves in a position where the UK Parliament has pondered FGM for generations, but still some issues around legislation are unresolved. Frustration at the snail’s pace of effective legal positions has been shared by many, from way back in time – amongst those impatient with progress being Sophie Ramsay, great-great-niece of Katherine Atholl who co-chaired the first parliamentary committee, in 1929.

And the global legal community has also been overtly concerned about FGM since at least the end of the Second World War. The illegality of female genital mutilation is grounded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in formal international law and in the explicit legislation of many nations around the world, including the United Kingdom.

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Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation Chapter 10: Prevention: Social Services and Multi-agency Work

Progress is now (early 2015) being made, but the removal by the new Coalition Government in 2011 of the post of national coordinator of action to eradicate female genital mutilation was a serious blow to the UK programme.  As noted (Chapter 7) progress was interrupted for some while: whilst the post was fairly new, its potential value is indicated by the fact that, more than three years and much vigorous activist positioning and campaigning later, in 2014, a discussion of how to implement a meaningful national action plan again came again onto the agenda.

In the meantime, as recent studies have shown, the number of women and girls with, or at risk of, FGM in Britain has probably increased significantly.  It is impossible to know precisely how many individuals could have been spared FGM if the emerging 2011 national coordinator role had continued, but an estimate of this number would be instructive as part of a study of the impact of nationally integrated service provision or the converse.

Nonetheless, there is now understanding and acceptance across the UK public service sector that FGM is, and must be tackled as, gross child abuse.

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Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation Chapter 12: Will FGM be Eradicated in the UK in a Decade?

How many more girls and young women in the UK (or the USA, or Australia, or in other Western states) will have their health, even lives, put at risk because of FGM?

How long will it be before Western political leaders recognise they must put their own house properly in order, as well as formulating FGM and those who practise it as ‘the other’?

And how long must we wait, with children at risk every day, before campaigners in communities and law enforcement authorities find ways to work together much more effectively? How are we to reach the crucial consensus, in traditionally practising communities and elsewhere, that FGM is everyone’s business, simply another grimly appalling act of cruelty permitting, of itself, no more ‘cultural sensitivity’ or special pleading by anyone involved than any other abuse of girls and women? 

These are stark questions, but they must be asked. Children in the UK remain at serious risk; lives continue to be ruined in Britain, across the Western world and around the globe. 

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