FGM - we need to do more to protect our girls

Holding Hands Adrian Yee

Today's report blames successive UK governments for the absolute failure to protect our most vulnerable girls from this life-threatening procedure

The House Affairs Committee today has published a report calling for national action to protect vulnerable young girls from the dangers of FGM. The cultural practise often referred to as ‘female circumcision’ causes severe shock, blood loss and has been linked to the transmission of hepatitis and HIV. Since 1993 it has been classified as a violation of human rights, so why is there still an estimated 65,000 children in the UK still at risk?

The report has labelled the failure to tackle this growing problem as an ‘on-going national scandal’. Failures by successive governments, the police, and health and education professionals have all been blamed for leaving this practise surrounded in silence and young girls vulnerable. This report is seen as a milestone for such a taboo subject in the UK and one which needs to lead to vital reform.

The procedure, often being carried out on girls in infancy, is performed with knifes or razors without the use of anaesthesia or formal medical training. An uncircumcised girl in some cultures is outcast as a second class citizen; abandoned by their community and family. If our country is failing them too, these girls are left isolated and in an impossible situation.

The report suggests that this failure by the state has led to thousands of preventable mutilations of girls whom we owed a duty of care. It is about time that this issue was addressed properly and sensitively.

The report has highlighted the failings to tackle this practise of gender-based violence as a result of ‘misplaced concern for cultural sensitivities.’ It seems in an attempt not to offend or interfere in other cultures practices the problem has been ignored. It is absurd that the fear of appearing racist has meant that young girls in this country have under gone persecution in their own communities to the sound of silence by those apparently there to protect them.

The select committee’s main recommendation highlights the importance of education. It is vital that the communities who still endorse this practise are properly educated about the consequences and dangers that it can have. However, even more importantly there needs to be education schemes put in place for our health, social and education services in this country. If our professionals are trained to identify and help at-risk girls it means not only that more mutilations can be protected against but that other girls will feel they have someone to go to if they fear the same happening to them.

Currently too many of our professionals are unable even to identify a girl who has undergone FGM let alone spot those girls who may be at risk. The fact that this practise has been surrounded in silence has resulted in an environment where girls are afraid to seek help and talk about their experience. Our government has time and time again failed our most vulnerable by not having a frank and open discussion about these issues nor put in place proper safeguards to protect against them.

Despite the fact that it has been a criminalised practise in the UK for almost 30 years, only this year have we seen the first cases being brought forward. Failings by police to properly investigate and insufficient evidence at court has meant to date there has been no successful prosecutions. It is hugely important that we see justice being served to those who still carry out the practise.

There have been further calls to change the law to make it a criminal offence not to report an incident of FGM. This is the current law in France, however, it seems highly unlikely this would be adopted in the UK; the government historically are extremely reluctant to prosecute for omissions. A more likely law to be imposed, however, could be a positive obligation on parents to protect their children from FGM. It seems in light of past failings to prosecute the perpetrators evidently we will need much more commitment from the police, the judiciary and the government if new laws are ever likely to be successful.

It is clear that in an effort to be ‘culturally cautious’ this country’s governments have repeatedly failed young and vulnerable girls. By ignoring the problem, they have only succeeded in increasing the taboo and further isolating victims. The report is a clear cry for reform and the proposals need urgently to be taken on board to ensure protection to those girls, who up until now, our government has not only failed but served to make their situation worse.