Female Genital Mutilation in the UK

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We often think of practices such as FGM happening in faraway countries and that here in the UK it is something we can forget about. WRONG. Female Genital Mutilation is a global problem, with 140 million girls cut across the world; but with 24,000 girls under the age of 15 at risk of FGM in the UK, it is also a British problem.

The WHO and UNICEF define female genital mutilation as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is mostly performed on girls under the age of 16 during childhood or adolescence (and even on babies), usually by a traditional circumciser who will practise without anaesthetic or proper medical equipment. Motivated by tradition and ideas of purity, some cultures believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman. Essentially, however, it is gender-based child abuse which must stop.

In the UK, FGM has been illegal since 1985 and carries with it a maximum 14-year prison sentence.
A similar law was also introduced in France in the mid-eighties but whereas some 100 parents and practitioners of FGM have been convicted in France, there has not yet been one single prosecution in the UK. The UK’s first ever prosecutions for FGM were only announced in March 2014. What’s more, it is known that the number of communities affected by FGM is growing; and with increased migration from the countries where FGM is widely practised, more girls in the UK are at risk of undergoing FGM. Yet at the local level, FGM is still not fully integrated into the child protection system and girls at risk of FGM are not receiving adequate protection. Within British society, FGM victims are mainly Kenyan and Somalian children living with their families in London. But FGM victims can be found in many of the major UK cities: Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Progress is slow. A 2014 campaign to end FGM in the UK, inspired by 17 year old Bristol school girl Fahma Mohamed and supported by ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, has taken a petition with more than 230,000 signatures to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, asking him to insist that all schools teach their students about FGM. Teaching children about FGM in the classroom will hopefully help those at risk, making sure they understand that the practice is illegal in the UK, and inform them where to turn for help. For schools where pupils are not directly at risk, learning about the issues raised by FGM is a valuable aspect of an education that considers children’s rights, plus morality and ethics. Hopefully these are the first steps to tackling FGM in the UK.

Proofread by : Bronwen Ewens Claire