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FGM Is Child Abuse – But UK Perpetrators Go Free

February 2, 2013

FGM EuropeCaitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman shares her impressions of ‘traditional feminism’:  we should concentrate on the big stuff like ‘pay inequality, female circumcision in the Third World, and domestic abuse’ – all, she affirms, ‘pressing and disgusting and wrong’, but she insists that the day-to-day problems of woman kind are just as deleterious to peace of mind. By such a yardstick the growing awareness that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a gross reality in Britain, in 2013, is a tragic and shocking double whammy.


Not ‘only’ is FGM a barbarically cruel fact, still, in the developing world, but it is inflicted on multiple thousands of girls – babies, children and teenagers – in Britain, every year.

Child abuse on a massive scale – and no prosecutions
This is child abuse on an inconceivably massive scale.  It ruins young lives and futures, and it carries a high risk of ill-health, even death, for both the victims themselves and, later on, for any babies they may have.

Yet still, despite the legal prohibition and the possibility of 14 years in prison, the perpetrators of FGM continue to inflict their hideous practice on children in Britain; and still, no-one has ever been prosecuted successfully in Britain. This is surely an extraordinary situation, in a country where we claim to take child abuse very seriously indeed.

If those with influence in Britain cannot (or will not) stop female genital mutilation, what hope is there for eradicating it in other much less well-resourced nations, where perhaps 100-140 million women world-wide have had FGM and around 3 million young girls are still subjected to it for the first time every year?

The narrative around this striking omission – a failure in the UK over the past several decades to bring to account even one single perpetrator (or procurer) of FGM from amongst the literally hundreds of thousands who must have been involved, tells us much we may not wish to acknowledge about contemporary British society.

Relating FGM to religion betrays children’s human rights
The rhetoric ‘explaining’ this startling failure to protect an estimated 20+ thousand girls every year from FGM in the UK engages notions of ‘culture’ and even – erroneously: for FGM is not a practice ‘required’ by Islam or any other faith – religious obligation.

This is dissembling on an industrial scale.  Not one of the weasel-mouthed ‘reasons’ often presented for such a massive betrayal of children’s fundamental human rights holds water.

The issue in truth is about resources, time and determination (or not).  FGM is it seems a horror too far for those who we might expect to lead public opinion.  It’s so much easier to say that evidence for prosecution cannot be found, or that female genital mutilation cannot really be a problem in Britain, because we Brits are actually kind people who care for our children…. The same line used, albeit with more contextual coherence, to ‘explain’ the decision of those loving (grand-)parents who insist on FGM for their daughters because they fear that otherwise they will become unmarriageable and ultimately destitute.

But the (verified) statistics for the UK tell a stark story.  Averaged over the year, more than 50 British children are at serious risk of, or actually undergo, FGM every single day.

So how can it be that no remotely convincing effort is made to stop such damage (sometimes lethal) to our children’s lives and futures?

Sexuality, dignity and health sacrificed to servitude
The answer to this question must be much the same as the answer to the question of why does female genital mutilation happen at all:

The ‘rationale’ for FGM is patriarchy, sexism of an extreme kind, perhaps misogyny.

FGM is inflicted on girls to ensure they are forever subject to the control of men.  Their sexuality, dignity and often their long-term health (sometimes life itself) is stolen even before they know any other way is possible.

For girls who have experienced FGM as they become women there is, even in Britain, little prospect except education cut desperately short, probable early marriage and a life of wifely dependency and servitude.

The United Kingdom is a place where minor drug-related offenders are pursued relentlessly; where those inadvertently caught up in civil rioting will find themselves behind bars.

‘Culture’ excuses cruel Crimes
But those who inflict unimaginable scheduled cruelty (however ‘loving’ their intentions) on female children for ‘cultural reasons’ remain, it seems, above the law.  Child safe-guarding requirements are somehow put aside; criminal investigation is deemed too difficult; adequate resourcing is a demand too far.

This icy determination to deny the problem, this cold-hearted neglect of children in peril, has at its heart a failure by decision-makers, mostly men, to value the lives of particularly vulnerable girls and women.

Australia paves the way
The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, recently accused her Opposition of sexism and misogyny; and she has subsequently tackled FGM directly, setting up for the first time in Australia focused enquiries about how this abuse – not ‘just’ verbal, but real, direct, long-lasting physical and mental damage – can be brought to an end.  No doubt another woman, Caitlin Moran, considering the evidence which has come to light since her original remarks, would expect the same unyielding focus to be brought to bear in Britain **.

Yes, Keir Starmer, the UK Director of Public Prosecutions, has (at the end of 2012) announced there is to be a review and a new approach to eradicating FGM in Britain; and yes, there is at last a growing awareness that we all, as parents, teachers, clinicians and upholders of the law have our part to play.

Still no move towards a national action plan in the UK
But still David Cameron, our own UK Prime Minister, refers in public to FGM as ‘cutting’ – a euphemism appropriate only for use in relevant communities, to bring potential offenders onside; and still there is – despite the call by Members of Parliament such as Karl Turner for action right now – no move to develop a National Action Plan, or to reinstate the Co-ordinator to abolish FGM.

Without meaningful resources and genuine political will words have little value.

Petition is just a beginning
There is a petition (Number 35313) on the HM Government website, open until June 2013, which UK citizens and residents may wish to sign, in support of action: Stop FGM in Britain

Hopefully, all who are eligible will support this minimal demand.  That however is only a beginning.  We must all try to learn more about this barbaric blight on girl children in the UK and across the world.

Too painful to contemplate
Perhaps we don’t want to know too much, too graphically, about the dreadful physical and mental scars which victims of FGM will, if they actually survive, carry for the rest of their lives, but we can make sure anyway that we know who to lobby, to make the world a safer place for girls and young women.  And we can make sure we really do lobby those influential people until change happens.

Raising awareness – a start
Female genital mutilation is ‘only’ one of the nightmares which confront young women in many parts of the world – other horrors include child marriage, ‘honour’ killing, grooming, slavery and casual rape – but FGM is a fundamental abuse which so far we in the UK have, dramatically and disgracefully, failed to address at all.  And it is something about which every one of us by raising basic awareness can help to make a difference.

Let’s just do it.  Let’s Stop FGM in Britain and everywhere else.  And let’s start by promoting the forthcoming International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation which WHO asks us to share on 6 February every year.

This piece was first published on the Safe World for Women website.

[ ** 9 October 2014:  And so it has come to pass ~  Why I’m Campaigning Against FGM (Caitlin Moran, Channel 4) ]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

FURTHER INFORMATION AND ACTION

Readers are invited to support these two FGM e-petitions:

UK Government: Enforce the UK law which forbids FGM (Female Genital so-called ‘Cutting’)    .. and

FGM abolitionists internationally: Support the Feminist Statement on Female Genital Mutilation

[See also HM Government e-petition, No. 35313, to STOP Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / ‘cutting’) in Britain  (for UK citizens and residents – now closed).]

There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or email: fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

The #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

For more on FGM please see here.

Twitter accounts: @NoFGM1  @NoFGMBookUK  @FGMStatement  [tag for all: #NoFGM]

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

More info on FGM in the UK here.

Email contact: NoFGM email

** Hilary Burrage is currently writing a book, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2013 09:38

    Greetings:

    You are humbly invited to join the global efforts to eradicate the harmful old practices of female genital mutilation, a phenomenon that refuses to die, and which is slowly becoming more global in its spread from Africa and the Middle East to the West through modern migration.

    FLIGHT OF LIFE is an advocacy styled fictional story of the adolescent daughter of an African diplomat who had first-hand knowledge of the agony of Female Genital Mutilation and the blood-chilling evidence of its damaging afflictions when she was seven years old. Avah has since had a predilection, and is averse to the harmful practice; she truculently battles to avoid going for the same rite of passage rituals. There was relentless pestering and harassing from family members fueling incessant heated confrontations between Avah and her mother including abduction attempts which finally culminated in sponsored daylight kidnapping on the streets of London and aggravated diplomatic imbroglio.

    This insightful modern day story throws up some simple practical yet unique eradication tool(s) that are so far overlooked in the fight against the scourge of FGM which leaves girls and women victims with life-long physical and psychological trauma.

    FLIGHT OF LIFE is available as eBook at a low affordable price on Amazon Kindle eBooks.com; co.uk, etc. and can be read also on your PC and other modern smartphone gadgets in addition to Kindle and iPod.
    You may also borrow to read from the Kindles owners’ lending library on Amazon.eBook.co.uk.
    Please visit – http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-eBooks/b?ie=UTF8&node=1286228011#/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1286228011&field keywords=FLIGHT+OF+LIFE+by+Raymond+Ladebo&rh=n%3A13314001

    Thank you for your kindness.

    Raymond Ladebo

  2. June 24, 2013 09:51

    Breakthrough! >> *NSPCC FGM HELPLINE* set up today, 24 June 2013

    Call: 0800 028 3550
    Email: fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

    Female Genital Mutilation is child abuse. If you are worried a child may be a victim, or at risk of female genital mutilation don’t wait until you’re certain, contact the NSPCC immediately.

    In the UK, people from the following communities are most at risk of FGM:
    Bohra-Dawoodi (Pakistani and Indian)
    Egyptian
    Eritrean
    Ethiopian
    Ghanaian
    Indonesian
    Kenyan
    Kurdish
    Nigerian
    Sierra Leonean
    Somali
    Sudanese
    Tanzanian
    Yemeni

    Don’t let socio-cultural pressures get in the way of protecting children.

    FGM is a harmful “cultural” practice, but it is not a religious one. Carrying out this practice has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985. However, there has not been a single prosecution to date.

    As with other forms of child abuse, these crimes often remain hidden and unreported, as children are too ashamed or afraid to speak out.

    You can call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 and send emails to fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk, text on 88858 or use the NSPCC Helpline online form: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/Applications/Forms/HelplineConcern/the-helpline-online-form.aspx

    More information on female genital mutilation here: https://hilaryburrage.com/tag/fgm/

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