Following a 4 week consultation in July the government plans to introduce new laws to protect victims of female genital mutilation. Proposals were put forward on the 20th October 2014 in parliaments Serious Crime Bill, including plans for a new civil protection order.
What is female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls. The practice is extremely painful and has serious physical and psychological consequences, both at the time of the mutilation and in the long term. The age at which the practice is carried out varies, from shortly after birth to the labour of the first child, depending on the community or individual family. The World Health Organisation states FGM is commonly carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15. It has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year; and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM. In the first time that the NHS has collected statistics on FGM, data produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal that in September 467 newly identified cases of FGM were reported by acute hospital providers in England. There were 1,279 active cases. Half of all cases were in London. These figures are likely to be an under estimation due to the hidden nature of the abuse
Current legal position
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 extended significantly the protection that the law affords to victims. It is an offence for anyone to perform FGM in the UK or to arrange for a girl to be taken abroad for it, the maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment. To date no one in the UK has been convicted of FGM however the first UK prosecutions over FGM were announced by the Crown Prosecution Service in March 2014.
Other existing statutory procedures that may be used in cases of FGM include:
- Police protection
- Emergency Protection Orders
- Care orders and Supervision orders
- Inherent jurisdiction of High Court
New proposals on FGM
The new FGM measures were set out via amendments to the Serious Crime Bill tabled in parliament.
Teachers, social workers, police and others such as friends or relatives will be able to obtain FGM protection orders by applying to the family courts with evidence that the girl is at risk. Orders with civil restrictions could include:
- The removal of travel documents whenever the courts believe there is a danger that a girl will be taken overseas to be cut.
- Require potential victims to live at a named address so that the authorities can check on their wellbeing.
- Permit the mandatory medical examination of girls in danger.
Breach of a FGM protection order will be a criminal offence.
There will also be a new legal duty on parents to protect their daughters from mutilation, or face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so. Anyone who has parental responsibility for a girl who has been mutilated when she was under 16, and is in frequent contact with her, or who has assumed responsibility for such a girl will be potentially liable for prosecution under the failing to protect a girl from FGM offence. Victims will also receive lifelong anonymity in an attempt to encourage victims to give evidence in court.