Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders (FGMPOs) are new civil measures coming into force on 17 July 2015 that enable certain courts, including the Central, East and West London Family Courts, to make orders to protect girls or women against genital mutilation offences.
The measures are one of the key changes introduced by the Serious Crime Act 2015 that has amended Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
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.
FGM is known by a number of names, including “ cutting”, “female circumcision” or “initiation”. 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. From September 2014 the NHS started collecting statistics on FGM. Data produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows between September 2014 and March 2015 3,963 newly identified cases of FGM were reported nationally with 60 of those cases under the age of 18. Half of all cases were in London. These figures are likely to be an under estimation due to the hidden nature of the abuse.
Girls of school age who are subjected to FGM overseas are thought to be taken abroad at the start of the school holidays, particularly in the summer holidays, in order for there to be sufficient time for them to recover from the physical effects before returning to school.
Female Genital Mutilation Orders
A FGM Protection Order can help if:
- a person is at risk of FGM;
- a person has had FGM committed on them
FGM Protection Orders 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; or preventing someone from bringing a “cutter” (a person who will perform the action of FGM) to the UK for the purposes of committing FGM
Orders can include conduct both in and outside England and Wales. The terms of the order may relate to people who are or may become directly or indirectly involved
Who can apply for a FGM protection order?
- The person who is to be protected by the order
- a relevant third party ( someone specified by the Lord Chancellor to make applications on behalf of others) , currently Local Authorities or
- any other person with the permission of the court.This could include a friend, teacher. The court will consider the applicant's connection with girl to be protected and their knowledge of the circumstances of the girl
Adults or children (those under 18) can apply for a FGM Protection Order. Children may have someone to assist them in bringing a case , but do not have to, if they have a legal representative or if the court agrees
An application can be made to the family court for an order. The family court may also make an order without an application where there are other family proceedings before the court and the court considers the order should be made to protect a girl irrespective of whether or not she is a party to the proceedings.
The making of an application for or the making of an FGM protection order does not affect any other remedies available to protect a girl who is or may be at risk of becoming a victim of a FGM offence e.g. a forced marriage protection order, non molestation order, wardship, disclosure of a child’s whereabouts. These remedies are available in addition to the application for a FGM protection order and where appropriate should be applied for in conjunction with the FGM protection order to reinforce the order.
How long do the orders last ?
An FGM protection order may be made for a specified period or until varied or discharged by the Court. This ensures that the order remains in force for as long as it is considered necessary. It also ensures that very young girls remain protected into adulthood subject to the right to apply for the order to be varied or discharged
What if the respondent does not obey the order?
A breach of a FGM Protection Order can be dealt with in the Family Court or through a prosecution in a criminal court.
Where a person is found, by a family court to be in breach of the terms of the order, the court will deal with them under its powers of contempt of court, with a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment
Breach of a FGM Protection Orders is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
If the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to prosecute , an application can be made to the Family Court for a warrant of arrest for contempt of court.
However, if someone has been convicted of the breach in a criminal court they cannot be punished for contempt of court and vice-versa.
Criminal proceedings and FGM Protection orders
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 extended significantly the protection that the law afforded to victims. It is an offence for anyone to perform FGM in the UK, assist a girl to mutilate her own genitalia, or to arrange for a girl to be taken abroad for FGM. The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment
FGM protection orders are available to the criminal courts without an application being made, where there are criminal proceedings pending in England and Wales for a genital mutilation offence. This includes where the defendant has not been convicted of the offence, if the court considers that there is a risk of the defendant carrying out the act of FGM or procuring, aiding or assisting FGM on a victim or potential victim of FGM irrespective of whether the girl is the subject of the alleged offence in the criminal proceedings, e. g. to protect a younger sister or another family member.
Other FGM provisions
Other legislative changes introduced by the Serious Crime Act 2015 include:
- Failing to protect girl from risk of genital mutilation
- A person commits a criminal offence if they are responsible for a girl at the time when an FGM offence is committed against her. This includes a person who has parental responsibility for the girl and has frequent contact with her as well as any adult who has assumed responsibility for caring for the girl in the manner of a parent e.g. relatives who might be caring for the girl during the school holidays
- Anonymity of victims of FGM - The Act prohibits publication of any matter which would be likely to identify the victim of FGM and makes it an offence to contravene this prohibition. The prohibition lasts for the lifetime of the alleged victim.
- Duty to notify police of female genital mutilation - The Act imposes a mandatory duty on ‘regulated professions' e.g. healthcare professional, teacher, social worker to serve an FGM notification on the chief officer of police for the area in which the girl lives where it is discovered that an act of FGM has been carried out on a girl who is aged under 18 e.g. by disclosure or where the person observes physical signs
- ‘extra-territorial acts’- The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is extended so that it applies to UK nationals and habitual residents rather than only to UK nationals and permanent UK residents
Organisations such as Forward and the Dahlia Project, a partnership project between Manor Gardens Health Advocacy Project and the Maya Centre, provide information and practical advice to anyone affected by or at risk of FGM.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know has suffered or is at risk of suffering FGM our accredited Domestic abuse solicitors can work closely with other local agencies and provide advice on all of the options open to you.