Nearly 30 years ago the British government passed the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Bill, outlawing this practice in the UK. Since then, the FGM Act 2003 had made FGM illegal in the UK. Last Monday (22/04/13), amidst the glitter and glamour of the Lord’s debating chamber, FGM was back on the agenda, as over 200 Peers and visitors listened attentively.
Baroness Cox raised the question in the House of Lords as to what information the British government have on the number of instances of female genital mutilation carried out in the United Kingdom in the past 10 years. To which Lord Taylor replied that ‘the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK is difficult to establish because of the hidden nature of the crime.’ The Baroness pointed out ‘… that according to research currently as many as 65,000 women living in this country have suffered FGM. It is feared that some may have undergone the procedure here and others sent abroad for the practice, but there has not been a single prosecution. Therefore, what effective provisions are being undertaken urgently to protect the estimated 30,000 girls currently at risk in this country?’
Five other peers joined Baroness Cox in raising questions on funding for awareness and means of prevention and the effect of DFID anti-FGM education abroad on communities in the UK. Lord Walton asked ‘Just as there have been no convictions, as far as I am aware there have been no references to the GMC of doctors accused of carrying out this procedure. How can that be explained?’ While Baroness Trumpington shocked the House by sharing early experience of this issue, stating that ‘When I tried to talk about this subject to the people involved, they said, "If you try to stop us, we'll do it on the kitchen table”.’ These questions were received by frequent choruses of ‘Here! Here!’ from the rest of the House, in what proved to be a well-received debate.
Lord Taylor responded that: ‘It is a hearts and minds issue, so we have to influence these communities and encourage them to recognise that there is no religious or medical basis for this abuse of young people and it should stop… the only way we can achieve progress is by using all the levers available to us: government departments; communities; and, through DFID, the overseas cultural base of this practice. The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act was passed in 1985, yet to date there has not been a single conviction. On the other hand the estimated number of women and girls who have been cut or are at risk, living here in the UK, is on the increase.
Debates like this are so important because they are a chance for parliamentarians with a desire to uphold human rights around the world to hold the government to account. Not just that, but it draws the attention of other in society to the terrible practice of FGM. Follow the debate in two articles in the Evening Standard. You can read them by following these links:
And you don’t have to leave it to the parliamentarians. Your MP cares about your good opinion; they want to keep their seat in parliament. Write to them and ask them to use their influence to ensure the British government effectively implements the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act. You can do this through http://www.writetothem.com/. In order for this practice to end the British government must be more proactive in educating communities and prosecuting offences- use your voice to ensure that happens!
28 Too Many was pleased to brief Lady Cox, 25 other peers, the Home Office, DfID and FCO on FGM for this debate. You can follow their daily activities on Facebook and Twitter.