What will a successful prosecution for FGM in the UK achieve?


31 March 2014

Guest blog by 28 Too Many Volunteer Helen Reid.

Last Friday, 21st March 2014, the CPS announced that there are to be two prosecutions under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, the first ever in the United Kingdom. Dr. Dhanoun Dharmasena from the Whittington Hospital in North London and Hasan Mohamed are to be charged in connection with an incident following a birth at the hospital in 2012. Announcing the prosecution, Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “It was alleged that following a patient giving birth in November 2012, a doctor at the Whittington Hospital in London, repaired FGM that had previously been performed on the patient, allegedly carrying out FGM himself.”1 

This news will be extremely welcome to the many campaigners against FGM as the practice, despite being illegal in the UK since 1985 (Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act), with stricter rules put in place in 2003 (Female Genital Mutilation Act), prior to Friday had not afforded a single prosecution in the UK. Not only do these prosecutions give weight to a law that has, up until now, been untested in the courts, but they have the potential to act as a deterrent in future cases of FGM, as they demonstrate that the UK is taking this form of violence against women as seriously as other forms. These prosecutions could deter people from carrying out FGM in the UK, and from going abroad to carry out the practice, as the principle of extraterritoriality is also applicable; making FGM a criminal offence even if it is performed abroad (whether or not it is lawful in the country where the procedure is carried out). 

However, there is a question as to whether a focus on prosecutions for FGM will detract from other necessary work that needs to be done to combat the practice. By focusing so much on a prosecution, are preventative measures that could prevent FGM before it occurs being neglected? Prosecution itself could be argued to be a failure, as it is a case of FGM that has not been prevented. 

I would argue that far from detracting from the other necessary steps that do need to be taken, these prosecutions are far more likely to complement them. A high profile case is likely to widen the discourse about FGM, and highlight what else is being done, or possibly more importantly, not being done to prevent situations such as these. 

In 2011 The Council for Europe came up with the following steps it considered necessary to combat FGM, “The Four Ps”:

  • Prosecutions
  • Protection for women and girls at risk, which not only serves to shield girls from harm but also allows for the collection of data on FGM (essential for prosecutions to be effective) and for other potential victims within a family to be monitored
  • Policies integrated across governments and departments in order to create a cohesive approach to FGM 
  • Prevention strategies

 

It is through a combination of these that FGM can be countered, and a prosecution could have a beneficial effect on each of the other ‘P’s’. There is no need to choose between these four methods, or to focus on how one detracts from another, but using each to complement and support the other. 

For example, the fact that one of the accused is a doctor could, and should lead to further calls for the education of professionals in the matter of FGM. Research from Julie Bindel’s recent report on FGM in 20142 demonstrated that there is a proportion of professionals who are unsure of how to deal with FGM, and are treating it as separate from child abuse. Bindel argues that the lack of adequate training for professionals is a direct result of a widespread feeling that FGM is a low priority for the state. This would suggest that a prosecution of this nature could encourage better training in these situations.

There have also been some excellent schemes set up by the government to tackle FGM, such as the ‘Health Passport’ trialled in 2012. This document, available in numerous languages and designed to be discreetly carried in a purse or passport, warns that British residents can face up to 14 years in jail if they arrange for FGM to be carried out abroad. However, it was not then backed up by action in the courts, despite a continuance of girls being taken abroad for FGM. A high profile prosecution such as this could go a long way to lending weight to schemes such as this, and improve their value in stopping FGM.

An excellent example of the Four Ps in practice is France, where there have been more than 100 successful prosecutions3. Programmes such as the Mother and Infant Protection services play a key role in preventing FGM and monitoring girls at risk. They educate their professionals through their protocol on FGM, which addresses the genital screening of girls and recommends how to deal with mutilation. In France, any girl who has been identified as at risk of FGM will be the subject of mandatory intervention from the authorities and children’s social care, with a compulsory medical examination at the outset. The prosecutions do not detract from the other Ps, but instead form a central part of the policy against FGM. France’s excellent approach has lead to known cases of girls being taken from France to undergo FGM in Britain – isn’t that appalling? 

To conclude, these prosecutions are an essential step in the fight against FGM, and one that is long overdue. It also has the capability of acting as a catalyst for improving and strengthening the other methods available to the UK to eliminate this form of child abuse and violence against women that has already gone on too long.

28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

 

References

 1 The Telegraph, 21st March 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10713683/Doctor-becomes-first-person-in-Britain-charged-with-performing-a-Female-Genital-Mutilation-procedure.html

 2 “An Unpunished Crime: The lack of prosecutions for female genital mutilation in the UK”, Julie Bindel, The New Culture Forum, January 2014

 3 BBC News, 21st March 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26681364