FGM/C Shifting Sands

Articles on Shifting Sands

FGM Law, Trials, Prosecutions, Convictions, Protection Orders and Mandatory Reporting

Published 14 May 2024 Associated Categories Featured, Legal, The facts
UK FGM Law, Prosecutions, Convictions, Protection Orders, Mandatory Reporting

Terminology

Until the 1980s, FGM was widely known in English as “female circumcision”, implying an equivalence in severity with male circumcision. After the publication of the influential Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females in 1979, circumcision became more widely referred to as mutilation. The World Health Organisation adopted this terminology in 1991. That there was ambiguity in regard to the practice in the UK is evident from the fact that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) only defined FGM as “an imposed violation of a child’s physical integrity” in 2013, 28 years after it was made illegal and was still referred to as circumcision.

The Law

The practice of ‘FGM’ in the UK has been a criminal offence since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985.

In 2003, the Female Genital Mutilation Act (FGM Act 2003) revised the 1985 Act. It set the maximum penalty on conviction for FGM to 14 years’ imprisonment. It also made it a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to i) perform FGM overseas or ii) take a UK national or permanent UK resident overseas to have FGM. The law applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales only.

In 2015 the Serious Crime Act (SCA 2015) amended the FGM Act 2003 and introduced a range of new measures designed to lead to an increase in the number of prosecutions. The act extends the extra-territorial reach of the offences in the FGM Act 2003 so that they apply to habitual as well as permanent UK residents. It also introduces a new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM.

Trials

Although 60,000 under 15 year old girls living in the UK are believed to be at risk of FGM, only six prosecutions have been heard to date. From these, two convictions have been delivered – numbers 5 and 6 below. In January 2022, Karlsen and colleagues reported a clear discrepancy between the prosecution rates reported by the Crown Prosecution Service (n = 5) and Home Office (n = 2).

  1. Leeds, January 2015

Care proceedings were held in relation to two children, B, a boy, born in July 2010 and G, a girl, born in July 2011 (not their real initials). The most important issue in the proceedings was whether G has been subjected to FGM and, if she had, what the implications of that were in relation to planning for her and her brother’s future. Judge Munby concluded that the local authority was unable on the evidence to establish that G either had been or was at risk of being subjected to any form of FGM.

  1. London, February 2015

A jury found a Medical Registrar not guilty of carrying out FGM on a newly delivered young mother. Another man was cleared of abetting the Doctor.

  1. Bristol, February 2018

A Somali man living with his family was cleared on the judge’s direction of a child cruelty charge, brought as a result of his supposedly telling a passenger in his taxi that he had allowed his daughter to undergo a form of female genital mutilation. Additional information here.

  1. London, March 2018

A 50-year-old man was cleared of two charges of FGM, alternative charges of wounding with intent and child cruelty. The defendant had been accused of twice arranging for someone to go to the family’s home to cut the young girl with a razor as she lay on a mat in the hallway.

  1. London, February 2019

In a landmark ruling, a mother from Uganda became the first person in the UK to be found guilty of female genital mutilation (FGM) by cutting her daughter’s genitals. The mother claimed that in August 2017 her three-year-old had slipped and cut her genitals on the metal edge of a loose cupboard door.

The judge’s sentencing remarks can be accessed here.

  1. London, March 2024

A mother was found guilty of assisting a non-UK person to mutilate her daughter’s genitalia whilst outside of the UK (Kenya) contrary to section 3 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

The judge’s sentencing remarks can be accessed here.

FGM Protection Orders 

FGM Protection Orders (FGMPO) were designed since July 2015 to offer a legal means to protect and safeguard victims and potential victims of FGM. Section 73 of the SCA 2015 Act introduced them to protect girls from the commission of a genital mutilation offence or protecting girls against whom the offence has been committed. The court may make a FGMPO on application by girls to be protected or by a third party. An FGMPO might contain prohibitions, restrictions or other requirements for the purposes of protecting victims or potential victims of FGM. This could include, for example, provisions to surrender a person’s passport or any other travel document, and not to enter into any arrangements, in the UK or abroad, for FGM to be performed on the person to be protected.

The Ministry of Justice collates data on FGM Protection Orders. There have been 600 applications and 860 orders issued to 30 September 2023. There were no reported proceedings for any breaches of an FGMPO by March 2019. 

A critical piece about FGMPO’s can be accessed here.

Mandatory Reporting Duty

Section 5B of the FGM Act 2003 introduced a Mandatory Reporting duty on 31 October 2015. It requires regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales to report to the police ‘known’ cases of FGM in under 18s which they identify in the course of their professional work. ‘Known’ cases are those where either a girl informs the person that an act of FGM – however described – has been carried out on her, or where the person observes physical signs on a girl appearing to show that an act of FGM has been carried out and the person has no reason to believe that the act was, or was part of, a surgical operation within section 1(2)(a) or (b) of the FGM Act 2003.

Data in regard to these reports appears not to be collated by the police and is unavailable.

Selective and critical contributions in regard to FGM legislation, monitoring and implementation to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, can be accessed here.

 

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About the Author -

Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.

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