Female Genital Mutilation In Britain: Professional Culpability, Public Responsibility, Private Peril
Female genital mutilation (‘cutting’, or ‘FGM’) is a barbaric practice inflicted on young girls by their families, and often performed by their immediate women relatives. Operators rarely have medical training and FGM is expressly illegal in the UK. Nonetheless, every year some 20,000+ small children in Britain are at risk of this damaging, very dangerous ritual. But prosecutions there are none. Why are FGM perpetrators protected, rather than victims? Is FGM child non-protection on a par with the scandal of UK elder-care ‘services’?
Female genital mutilation or FGM is not the ‘same’ as male circumcision. Whilst that too is a painful and, to many, disturbing practice it is generally (at least in the UK) conducted under controlled conditions and is, though potentially also dangerous, usually a relatively minor procedure.
In contrast to male circumcision, girl children are frequently taken abroad expressly (and highly illegally) to be forced to undergo FGM in the location of their family of origin. Female genital mutilation is an aggressively chauvinist practice, inflicted barbaricly by families on their daughters, and intended expressly to oppress women and subjugate them to the alleged interests of men.
Invasive and pervasive
Even the ‘mild’ forms of female circumcision or ‘cutting’ are seriously invasive, often performed, without asepsis or anaesthetic, on babies, young children or girls reaching puberty.
FGM is extremely and often enduringly painful, offers no medical benefit and can be fatal or, especially in the more extensive forms of cutting, cause long-term morbidity, including obstructed labour and fistulae.
Yet in Britain it is estimated that every year well over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are in peril of this procedure (see also A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of FGM in England and Wales). It is thought that around 6,000 of these children live in London, and in the UK overall probably 50 to 60 children are at risk on any one day – more than two an hour, every day of the year.
Contrary to the police view in their Guidelines – but as suggested by Sunday Times evidence in April 2012 – Dr Constance Momah of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, who is editor of the guide to good practice concerning Female genital mutilation, insists that FGM procedures do occur in London, as well as during ‘Summer holiday’ trips abroad which families arrange for that purpose.
Dr Momah is firmly of the view that, whether the mutilation of girls is performed in the UK, or elsewhere, the perpetrators must be subject to full legal sanction. But there have been no prosecutions either of those who may have conducted the procedure in the UK itself, or of those who take their children elsewhere (also expressly illegal) for it to be carried out.
Why are children in Britain still at risk?
The evidence of perpetration exists; guidelines for detecting who in the UK is likely to be subjected to FGM are easily available; and the penalties for permitting FGM to be inflicted on a minor are very severe. So why no effective action?
FGM is a grievously serious form of child abuse and thereby gives rise to all the standard professional challenges associated with safe-guarding minors and reducing risk of injury and damage to vulnerable children.
Additionally however there are perceived to be ‘cultural’ sensitivities. The fact that the large majority of victims are from families with connections in Africa, the Middle East or some parts of Asia has been presented as a ‘reason’ why a non-legal approach is required in dealing with this grave child abuse.
The evidence to date however suggests that this cultural sensitivity, whilst having some success in countries with a tradition of FGM, has offered scant protection for deeply vulnerable young people in the UK, more than 50 of whom are known to be at risk on a daily basis – and that number is thought to be actually rising.
On the evidence available, there have been no prosecutions for FGM, in London or elsewhere in the UK.
The Metropolitan Police Project Azure exists, but still FGM continues. The Met reports that, whilst prosecutions have not been taken, the number of interventions had risen from 38 in 2008 to 59 in 2009 – out of more, we note, than 20,000 suspected cases p.a., some 6,000 of them probably based in London.
The refusal by the Metropolitan Police to prosecute for FGM, and its eagerness to ‘interpret’ legislation in favour of suspected miscreants, offers an extraordinary contrast with their noted diligence in calling down the full might of the judiciary for many other apparently more minor infringements of the law.
Passing the buck, massively
How this grave neglect of effective child safe-keeping has arisen in the UK is a matter which requires continuing analysis, but the factors claimed to be at play – ‘cultural’ ambivalence, reluctance to ‘interfere‘ with matters of such intimacy, political queasiness, the idea that this is a ‘women’s issue‘ and so forth – give no professional credence to, or exoneration of, their exponents. Much more compelling are real-life stories such as that of the model Waris Dirie, in her film Desert Flower.
Here we see official inter-departmental buck-passing on a massive scale. Despite new Government guidelines (2011) no single UK agency has ultimate responsibility for preventing FGM, and many professional practitioners doubtless feel exposed beyond their experience and training in addressing it. Guidelines are no substitute for lack of substantive professional support and leadership on the ground.
Reticence or failure to intervene effectively is not acceptable in other instances of child abuse; nor should it be in the case of FGM. Decisive action to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators is required forthwith – alongside, where appropriate, post-prosecution action directed at least as much at repairing damage as at punishment. There must be a clear division in our minds between issues of guilt and those of suitable punishment, taking account of context and other need.
Is this a scandal like elders care?
So professionals continue to indulge their ‘cultural’ sensitivities; meanwhile every day another 50 babies and young girls undergo excruciating pain and mutilation. Here is an issue which may match that of the recently disclosed failure by some practitioners to care for elderly people.
FGM is a scandal already happening in the domestic privacy of ‘caring’ for defenceless children.
How many more small people must suffer so dreadfully, before neglectful professionals find themselves in the dock alongside the FGM perpetrators?
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For more general information on FGM please see: #NoFGM: A Listing For Action & References On Female Genital Mutilation.
If you have a Twitter account and would like to draw more attention to this issue, please use the hashtag #NoFGM and follow @NoFGM1.
Please also sign our HMG e-petition: STOP Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / ‘cutting’) in Britain