The UK 2nd Conviction against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

By Juliet Albert

 

On the 26th of October 2023 the Crown Prosecution Service convicted a woman of trafficking a three-year-old British child to Kenya to be subjected to FGM. The offence took place in 2006. Nine years later (in 2015), the victim confided in a schoolteacher and the police were subsequently informed. This is the first time someone has been prosecuted for “assisting” a person outside of the UK to commit FGM against a British resident and the first time a person has been held accountable for a cutting that occurred outside of the UK. This became a criminal offence under the FGM Act 2003. 

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, yet in England there has only been one previous successful conviction in 2019. It is estimated that there are more than 137,000 women and girls with FGM currently living in the UK and a further 60,000 girls under the age of 15 are estimated to be at-risk of FGM. UNICEF recently reported that worldwide over 230 million women and girls have suffered FGM which is approximately 5% of the global female population

All women born in the UK or resident in the UK from 2003 onwards who have been subjected to FGM (whether in the UK or abroad) should be informed that this is a criminal offence and can be reported to the police even though it is an historic case. Moreover, the person who arranged or “assisted” the cutting can be prosecuted.  

This case illustrates how the law can help to discourage perpetrators from carrying out FGM. However, when considering this case, we must consider the circumstances surrounding the events with cultural sensitivity and adopt a human-rights-based perspective. The intention behind FGM is to stop women having sexual pleasure and force them to conform to gender norms such as compliance and modesty. Within patriarchal societies, FGM can have been a one-off event by an otherwise loving family who were not fully aware of the damaging physical and psychological consequences of FGM. However, FGM sometimes takes place alongside other intersectional violence, such as early forced marriage, domestic abuse or other harmful practices. There is no one homogenous FGM practising community either. FGM is practised all over the world by people of all different faiths and belief systems. 

This conviction sends a strong message to people who wish to continue practising FGM but we should not forget the trauma experienced by the girl who suffered FGM (now 21 years old), the consequences upon her whole family, and the fact that the convicted perpetrator should be considered vulnerable and a victim herself. The convicted woman arrived in the UK as a refugee aged 16 and was herself a victim of FGM. It is unlikely that she was educated about the harmful consequences of FGM. The perpetrator was only 22 years old herself when the offence took place and it was reported in the press that she was at risk of being “disowned and cursed” by the community if she failed to “hand over the girl” and was subjected to “significant cultural pressure” 

The Serious Crime Act of 2015 introduced new legislation which healthcare professionals should be aware of: 

  1. extending the extra-territorial reach of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (ie the law applies to habitual as well as permanent UK residents) 
  2. a new offence of ‘failing to protect’ a girl from FGM. This means that parents or other family members can be prosecuted if they fail to protect their daughters from FGM. This law was introduced because women were telling professionals that they were cut by their grandmothers or other family members without their parent’s knowledge
  3. grants lifelong anonymity to victims 
  4. brings in a civil order (FGM protection orders) to protect potential victim
  5. introduces a Mandatory Reporting Duty on healthcare professionals, teachers and social care workers, to notify the police (via the non-emergency number of 101) if a girl under 18 either discloses FGM or if it is identified during an episode of clinical care

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About the Author 

Juliet Albert is a FGM Specialist Midwife (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust) and PhD student (University of Nottingham). She is co-lead of ACERS-UK FGM Reconstruction Surgery – FGM Network and can be contacted at juliet.albert@nhs.net 

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