6th February is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. It also sees the launch of the Red Triangle campaign which runs until International Women’s day on 8 March. This is a national campaign to encourage people to provide the police with information that can help detect and prevent FGM in the UK and abroad.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGM is child abuse and a form of violence against women and girls. The practice is extremely painful, very traumatic and has serious physical and psychological health consequences both at the time when the mutilation is carried out and in later life including mental health problems, difficulties in childbirth and/or death. FGM is a deeply embedded social norm, practised by families for a variety of complex reasons. It is often thought to be essential for a girl to become a proper woman, and to be marriageable. The practice is not required by any religion; rather, it is rooted in culture.
Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. 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. The first annual statistics produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre in 2016 were collated from acute hospital trusts, mental health trusts, GP practices and community services within mental health trusts. The data shows between April 2015 to March 2016 there were 8,660 total attendances where FGM was identified or a medical procedure for FGM was undertaken. This includes newly recorded cases where women and girls had their information collected for the first time, and cases where the woman may have been cut many years ago. Of the total number of newly recorded cases, 43 involved women and girls who self-reported to have been born in the United Kingdom. In 18 cases, the FGM was undertaken in the UK, including 11 women and girls who were also born in the UK. These figures are likely to be an under estimation due to the hidden nature of the abuse.
FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985. The law was strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls travelling from the UK and undergoing FGM abroad; and in 2015 to provide for life long anonymity for survivors, to prevent FGM being done outside the UK by a UK national or a person who is resident in the UK, a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, and a mandatory duty for specified professionals to notify the police of FGM. To date, no-one has been convicted in connection with FGM in England and Wales.
In July 2015, new civil provisions came into force, making it possible to apply to the Family Court for a ‘Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order’ (‘FGMPO’) to protect against FGM.
FGMPOs are unique to each case. They contain whatever prohibitions, restrictions, requirements, conditions and directions the court thinks appropriate to protect a person at risk of FGM in their individual case. This could include, for example, the removal of travel documents and/or passports where the courts believe there is a danger that a girl will be taken overseas, and an order for mandatory medical checks. This flexibility enables the family court to offer comprehensive protection to women and girls in a wide range of circumstances.
Legal aid is available to make an application for a FGMPO subject to the likelihood of an application being successful and an applicant being financially eligible
Breach of an FGMPO is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for breaching an FGMPO is five years imprisonment.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show 97 applications were made for and 79 FGMPOs had been granted up to the end of September 2016.
Help is available if you are concerned that you or someone you know has suffered or is at risk of suffering FGM. Our accredited solicitors can work closely with other agencies to provide advice on all of the options open to you.