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The Guardian Newspaper Readers’ Campaign To Eradicate FGM *In The UK*

December 21, 2013

11.04.17 red centre  004aIn January 2014 the Guardian Newspaper is to launch a campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).  This will include not just reports about what is happening right now, but also asking how FGM can be stopped  within a generation, and what we can all do to make this happen.    In preparation for this campaign, the Guardian is inviting people in Britain and around the world to advise on how to abolish the practice forever.

We need your views!  (Please contribute via the Comments box, below.)

We want to know what you think the Guardian should be asking their print and on-line readership to do, in support of the campaign to eradicate FGM.

Our aim is to confer with as many experts and concerned citizens as possible, to arrive at five recommendations each for UK domestic, and for global, action by Guardian readers…..

** To share your ideas for domestic (UK) actions please  COMMENT BELOW (end of / below full post). **


Ideas and Comments on UK action so far are summarised HERE.

Watch this space. We shall take the debate wherever it needs to go……


Averaged out,  perhaps two girls and women in Britain face serious risk of FGM every hour of the year.    Estimates suggest there are around 24,000 cases of FGM in the UK annually, but the fear is that this number may be increasing.

> Do you have advice or ideas about how this appalling harm, often inflicted on young girls and babies, can be stopped?

> Do you have experience of FGM, personally or as a member of a community in which it occurs?

> Are you a practitioner who encounters the challenges of FGM in the course of your work?   Maybe a teacher, clinician, police officer, social worker or youth leader?

Have you found it difficult to confront or deal with FGM as you would wish?  Or are you simply a concerned citizen who wants to see FGM eradicated?

Maybe you have ideas for action such as:

  • Contact your neighbourhood school to ask them about their safeguarding procedures, or whether the school provides lessons in keeping safe.
  • Contact your local Councillors and suggest , if appropriate, that they arrange for information leaflets about FGM and the FGM Helpline to be available in community venues.
  • Ask your local MP whether s/he has data on the local incidence of FGM, and to raise the issue in Parliament.
  • Write to Micheal Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to ask him to revisit the Government’s refusal to implement national safeguarding guidelines on FGM.
  • Enquire about local medical and well-being provision for women who have experienced FGM.
  • Arrange to show one or two documentary films about FGM; or maybe organize a community arts project on the subject?

Would these suggestions be useful? Or do you have other ideas? Whatever, we want to hear from you!

Please follow us on @FGMQuestions and #FGMQns, and tell others too that their views will be appreciated.

** To share your thoughts on domestic (UK) actions, please  COMMENT BELOW.**

[To suggest actions globally, please post your comments   HERE.]

For regular, completely free no-obligation UK and global updates on FGM, please see
#NoFGM Daily News.

119 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    December 21, 2013 15:13

    There are many people within FGM affected communities that want to end FGM. They need to be supported and empowered to become community advocates and spread the word that FGM is harmful, Illegal and against all Religious teachings.
    We already have a co-ordinated approach in Bristol with good engagement from the community and excellent dedicated workers from many organisations working together. More funding for training and empowering community members would mean we can reach more people. In addition a co-ordinated and strategic approach is needed to train professionals to support FGM affected communities and ensure consistent messages across statutory organisations like schools, the police, social care and health services. A barrier to this type of work is capacity of already stretched services in public and voluntary sectors.
    We need to look for an evidence base of what works by looking to countries where rates of FGM have fallen e.g. Northern Somalia/ Somaliland

  2. December 22, 2013 01:13

    You cannot end FGM without engaging with the parents of the next generation – this means education in schools and colleges is key to ending this practice. Working with the ‘elders’ is not the way forward, and Michael Gove and the Dept of Education need to understand this. There has been huge progress from the current government, particularly from the Dept of Health and Dept of International Development, but Michael Gove is a huge stumbling block. The biggest changes in the past five years have been led by young people speaking out – those that bridge both cultures need to be empowered to challenge FGM and other forms of culturally specific violence and abuse against women and girls. In terms of safeguarding children currently at risk, there needs to be legislation in place making medical professionals (and indeed other frontline professionals) accountable should they fail to report FGM.

    • December 23, 2013 10:04

      Hear hear Lisa! Great response. Speaking from an equivalent context, in Australia, I agree wholeheartedly that there must be more information sharing between frontline professionals, and also FGM needs to be included in teacher professional development and training, as well as in the syllabus. I also think that regular health checks by a doctor, particularly if a family is intending to travel would help. I think immigration needs to be part of the process eg warning families if they are leaving the country about the illegality of FGM. Not sure if it would help but at least they would know to be alert to children at risk.

    • Kaisha permalink
      December 23, 2013 22:37

      I totally agree, FGM has to be tackled by involving young people, girls and boys, and you’re right Lisa, these are the parents of the future. What has really made the difference and made FGM front page news is the work of activists where the focus is on working with young people, for example the young people who made the film “Silent Scream” and who appeared on Newsnight. These are the people agencies should be engaging with, not “community elders” who have a vested interest in the status quo.

      I also thought Leyla Hussein’s film “The Cruel Cut” was extremely powerful, particularly where she showed the young men what really happens; what if every young man was aware of this?

  3. Aries permalink
    December 23, 2013 10:45

    Education & Controversy

    Maybe FGM should be covered in secondry school sex education. If native English girls learn about it and discuss it between themselves and with their friends who could potentially become victims then the subject will become less taboo and unusual maybe opening up the discussion between the child and her parents. Therefore making it easier to report.

    Controversy is required to gain attention on the subject and start people talking about it. ‘Every woman has a right to orgasm’- Nothing can be more crude than the act itself, surely

    • December 23, 2013 11:08

      Hi Aries, FGM awareness needs to be taught in the context of VAWG, which is a PSHE subject. PSHE isn’t statutory, and even if schools do provide the odd PSHE lesson, they can – and do – choose less controversial content. The easiest, most cost effective and by far the quickest way of giving a voice to the young people affected by FGM and other forms of VAWG is to make PSHE statutory – these conversations are not happening at home so school is the only place they would have the opportunity to ask questions and challenge the misconceptions around the practice. You are absolutely right that all girls should learn about this – indeed, all young people should. It’s essential to include young men in the dialogue. Education also needs to be statutory in all medical curricula too – unbelievable that it isn’t. Social services are still not engaging properly with FGM, they are overloaded with approximately 100 cases for one worker.
      I hope we will get the ICD code for FGM very soon which will ensure that accurate statistics are finally available, and if each case is reported, it will be easier to ensure daughters are protected from FGM. Legislation is necessary for this.

    • December 23, 2013 12:18

      Thanks to all for the comments. You will see that I do so agree about the PSHE…. It’s a top-level Category of this blog, with a very long history of debate (as you’ll also see), plus already some commentary at the end (bottom of the page) about how it relates to FGM.

    • Anon permalink
      January 6, 2014 09:25

      People commiting FGM need to be educated that it is not part of their Religion but it is in fact against their religion and are committing a sin. They need to be shown in writing where it states that its not right to harm women and how they are displeasing their God. If it is not a religious reason as to why they commit these acts, then they need to be educated that it is a crime and committing FGM serves no purpose at all. That by committing FGM they are doing something that is of no value to them or society and is a waste of time and is cruel.

      Sometimes people like this who are so indoctrinated need to be informed in a way that will show them how it affects them and how their actions are in fact harming themselves and their community. If you try and say how it hurts the women and the girls they don’t care as they see it as doing the women good and they have this absurd no pain no gain attitude. So I think you have to relate it to the perpertrators of these acts and how it harms them. If they were not so selfish they wouldn’t be acting this way. Thus you need to turn it on its head and tell the absuers that this is not doing them any good.

  4. December 23, 2013 10:47

    I recall watching a film called Moolaade some years ago – a senegalese film which covered this subject. It really made an impression on me – not something I was aware existed at the time. It’s a difficult subject to get people to engage with so maybe screening films like this in target communities would help?

  5. steve isle permalink
    December 24, 2013 10:02

    Of course education is necessary both here and abroad but there are two things which need to be done. Firstly we need to counter the post-modernist, relativist nonsense that allows intelligent people to tolerate FGM because it’s a ‘cultural practice’. Secondly a compulsory test by a GP at age 10 or so would deter parents for fear of prosecution. It seems radical and invasive but not nearly as much as FGM.

  6. Christina permalink
    December 24, 2013 10:38

    I agree with Kaisha that the community elders do not represent the best channel for change. I attended a conference at Bristol University, which had been organised by an incredibly impressive and outspoken group of young people working with a charity called Integrate Bristol. I’ve also seen them on Newsnight and during the programme, one of the young women was asked what she would say to David Cameron if she had the opportunity to speak with him – she said she’d tell him to “grow a pair”… months later of course significant funding was awarded for the campaign to end FGM, but most of that is I believe destined for work outside the UK. It seems to me that these young people and their work with Integrate have done a huge amount to put this issue on the map – not least because they have their own younger sisters’ welfare at heart as much as the larger significance of the campaign. It is surely through the passion and commitment coming from this younger generation that a way forward will be found and the future protection of girls ensured.

    I also saw Leyla Hussein’s film, The Cruel Cut, mentioned by Kaisha, as well as a powerful double episode of Casualty on BBC tv – both did a lot to raise mainstream awareness of FGM – and both could be shown in schools, to older pupils at least, and maybe even in medical schools, as part of spreading an understanding of the issue. I hope that more such programmes will be made.

  7. Adil Dafa'Alla on behalf of the Sudanese community association of Bristol permalink
    December 24, 2013 19:10

    Hi All,
    Thanks Hilary for starting the debate on this important topic.

    First, to start with, I have no doubt that all of us want this horrific tradition to be eradicated ad stop as soon as possible.

    Hence, the question is how can we achieve this goal.

    It may be useful in this context to remind every one that we are dealing with a very old tradition, which was started during the Pharaohs era of ancient Egypt over 7,000 years ago. Therefore, eradicating it requires deep understanding of the cultural context in which this practice is being carried out and, hence requires long term planning. Short cuts will not work.

    We can also try to study and learn from the experience of other countries which have achieved a reasonable degree of success through following a program of raising awareness, education and carrying the whole society with them, working with it rather than working against it.

    In this context, let me recall the experience of the Sudan, for example. The British colonial power of the Sudan has legislated and criminalised female circumcision in the 1940’s. This legislation was then backed up by the Sudanese intelligencia. The only exception was Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, the leader of the Republican Party at that time. His view was that eradicating such practice requires understanding of the cultural context and hence cannot be imposed by a colonial power acting from above. Unfortunately, time showed us that his views were proved to be right and the legislation remained the most ineffective in the history of the Sudanese legislative system.

    To briefly clarify this, the generation of my mothers, who were born in the 30’s and 40’s were all, without exception, circumcised. The generation of my sisters, who were born in the sixties and seventies, was largely circumcised. The “brave” exceptions were in fact publicised at the time hoping that they could be used as an example for others. They were watched at the time by both parties ( those who were for and those against female circumcision) to prove their respective points! My daughters were not circumcised and there was not even a question about them being circumcised. And no one yet was brought before the court to enforce the law!

    We, in the Sudan, have achieved this positive result through close in-depth work with and for the community. I remember that when we were university students, we used to launch public campaigns within our local communities trying to educate and raise awareness of the public about the problems that female circumcision can cause. We were met with dismissiveness from our mothers generation, but encouraged by the participation of our sisters in these campaigns.

    This shows that legislation is not necessarily the right way forward. Closer collaboration and working with the communities by activists that understand the culture is vital.

    Hope these points enrich the discussion.

    • martha permalink
      December 29, 2013 08:08

      What a great post from someone who really knows about this issue. No indignation, lots of historical perspective, a realistic appreciation of the role of law. Thanks!

  8. Annabel permalink
    December 26, 2013 14:17

    I am a final year medical student who is working with my university and FGM campaigners to create better resources to teach medical professionals. FGM is not a compulsory part of the UK medical school syllabus and many UK midwives still do not know much about the issue. At the moment it is taught in a very ad hoc way and there isn’t consistency about what junior professionals or GPs should know. Help us make FGM teaching compulsory for all front line professionals. Thanks
    Annabel Sowemimo

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 6, 2014 17:32


      Absolutely, make FGM teaching compulsory for all frontline workers: doctors, nurses, midwives, childminders, teachers, classroom assistants.


  9. Mushtag Kahin permalink
    December 26, 2013 18:47

    I work as a Health Advocate and work alongside a FGM Specialist Midwife whom provides de-infibulation treatment and fast track referrals to a Sudanese Gyneacologist/Bladder Specialist & also Neurologist.
    As I’m from Somaliland where FGM is down through education, I believe that’s the key. I really disagree with the 14 years sentences and I find it hypocritical for some campaigners to promote this whilst they have not reported their own parents..
    Also religious leaders need to step up and speak against this cultural practise and also men to speak out. Awareness and work shops supposed to be targeted to the communities affected and hopefully you can change people mindsets through that. That is in the Western World but also in Africa & Asia.
    Make it part of the school education and have a FGM training at schools, nursery and colleges.

    • Mushtag Kahin permalink
      December 26, 2013 18:51

      I meant campaigners haven’t reported their own parents to police but campaign for young girls to do so..

    • ana permalink
      January 6, 2014 21:09

      Truly agree with Mustag Kahin, education is the master key: parents, bring the religious leaders to step up against this terrible cultural practice. We should engage the Goverment, the Media and campaign together nationally and internationally.

  10. December 28, 2013 07:56

    As an obstetrician in Nottingham, who previously worked in a part of Kenya where FGM was the norm, it seems to me that too much of the conversation is the converted speaking to the converted.. A successful UK prosecution would send an important signal. Why are we still waiting? Are UK girls being sent abroad for FGM less common than was thought?

    • December 28, 2013 19:21

      Couldn’t agree more re the need to uphold the law, Jim! I set up an e-petition a while ago which now has almost six thousand signatures: UK Government: Enforce the UK law which forbids FGM (Female Genital so-called ‘Cutting’).

      Obviously, we still need more support… As you say, no prosecution even now.

    • December 28, 2013 19:23

      PS You may find this of interest: The UK Can Learn From France On Female Genital Mutilation Prosecutions. Any views?

    • December 30, 2013 17:40

      Amen, amen. amen!

      Prosecute first. Educate second.

      Not only prosecute vigorously in ALL cases where criminal law can be used, but apply the power of child protection agencies to the full extent. If a child in a family is found to be cut, declare the family a danger to children and IMMEDIATELY REMOVE ALL CHILDREN frm the family – every single minor. Make full cooperation with prosecution, including naming everyone who performed, abetted, or promoted FGM, a condition of even meeting their children.

      Their only chance to see their children and eventually be reunited with them must rest on their witness in court against the criminals. If they refuse to cooperate, assume they did it to their children themselves and treat them as violent dangerous criminals are treated – that’s jail. Moreover, consider treating FGM as a form of child sexual abuse and use the legal recourses developed for parents who rape their children.

      Anyone who promotes FGM publicly should also be prosecuted for incitement of violence. Any religious or cultural organization promoting or defending FGM should be banned.

      Anyone convicted for FGM offenses who is not a citizen should be deported, except perhaps parents who have fully cooperated with the courts and helped convict the “operators” and preachers – these might get suspended sentences. Anyone who is a naturalized citizen and is convicted, with the same exception, should have their citizenship revoked for breaking citizenship conditions, then deported. (And I am saying this as a naturalized citizen myself – it’s Ireland in my case). The affected children should stay, be fostered and fast-tracked to citizenship.

      Also, if any parent claims the other parent pushed for FGM make it a domestic abuse case, with the prosecutions, restraining orders and all the mechanisms existing for it.

      Bring in the jackboots. Yes, this approach might not work in Africa, but this is not a thread about Africa.

  11. December 28, 2013 12:08

    To help spot victims of FGM, and therefore initiate the health and social support that is needed, the healthcare system needs to be trained in how they can piece together the tell tale signs of the abuse. In the same way that provisions are made for child sexual abuse, FGM needs to be brought to the attention of staff, particularly with nurses, GPs, paediatricians and psychiatrists. This needs to start at University training with raising awareness for the issue and then post-graduate training in the specifics of spotting and dealing with the issue.

    A structured process for flagging suspected FGM cases needs to be uniform around the UK to deal with those affected effectively. In addition, police forces need to be included in an education initiative too. From these provisions being in place, those culpable for the abuse can be brought to justice and the victims will receive treatment that is lacking in the current system.

  12. Janine permalink
    December 28, 2013 21:44

    Work must start by understanding why it is practiced and why it is believed to be of benefit, this must be done from within communities that practice FGM. Getting victims to tell of their experiences to help raise awareness could be effective. Women who do not agree to FGM or allow their children to undergo FGM are often outcast by their communities, there is a genuine cultural belief that FGM morally, spiritually and physically safeguards women and girls- this is a key point. In Summary education, education and more education. Essentially to end FGM the entire culture of many communities will have to be changed, not something that will be easy but that does not mean we shouldn’t try. If one women or girl is saved from FGM by this campaign then it will be worth it.

    • martha permalink
      December 29, 2013 08:17

      If men stopped wanting the girls they marry to be circumcised, the practice would end. Why not concentrate on male attitudes instead of advocating invasive inspections of girls and prosecutions of their mothers?

  13. Rusty Cage permalink
    December 28, 2013 23:18

    I think children should be checked at their 2 year checks for FGM. It could catch children cut at a young age. It might not help the children cut any older, but it may help demonstrate that the issue is taken seriously and that the authorities are not afraid to check for the signs.

    • December 30, 2013 10:33

      Why should a poor child have to submit to this humiliation, it’s like virginity checks … what’s more,it could be a retrospective act.
      So you find a girl who’s been cut all too late.

  14. December 30, 2013 10:29

    The UK will never stamp out this violent act against women by talking to the women,schools or politicians.
    You need to look at ‘why’ FGM is done, the reason it’s done is because the prospective husband EXPECTS to find his wife stitched up & intact.
    It is HE who demands it,this is why the relatives do it to their girls, they fear she will be rejected on her wedding night by the new husband.
    In his possessive ignorance he thinks it shows he is the first & only man who has ‘visited’ the girl.

    So get to the core of the problem & educate the males.
    Get them to say out loud that they want a natural wife not a damaged one.
    Start a campaign involving the young men .

    In a patriarchal world of these people [ mainly muslims or tribes] the men rule,it is only they who can change anything.

    • December 30, 2013 17:49

      The act will never be eradicated by talking, period. It can only be eradicated by police action.

      I agree men should be policed for every pro-FGM statement. This especially applies to community and religious leaders. Send undercover agents with recorders to religious meetings (no need for profiling, any decent religious community, including those i am a member of, would welcome anyone including such agents). Any pro-FGM statement must be prosecuted as incitement to violence.

      One problem I see with your approach is that those women already victimized, perhaps years ago and perhaps outside the UK, will feel additional rejection – the last thing they need.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 5, 2014 16:32

      Katie, if you find a girl who’se been cut, it’s too late for her, but not too late for a prosecution, to send out a strong message that this country will not tolerate FGM.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 7, 2014 18:42

      Katie, posting on 30 Dec: yes, we should educate men to repudiate FGM. But I’m afraid that, where this practice is concerned, there’s a kind of “mission creep”. FGM persists because practising communities might believe that the Prophet demands it — cue all imams to denounce it; that would help.

      It’s also believed to be a cleansing ritual, a rite of passage, that a child will die in childbirth if its mother’s clitoris comes into contact with its head, that FGM drives away evil spirits, that if the clit isn’t removed, it will grow till it resembles a penis. So educating men is only part of the solution.

      Oh, and if the UK Somali community is so opposed to FGM, how come there weren’t more posts from Somalis on this thread? I know that’s not a polite question, but politeness isn’t going to help expunge FGM.

    • January 7, 2014 21:56

      A major part of the education is for the religious amongst the pro FGM society, is to get the message across that Allah designed the body & ask why do they ,the family, think they can improve on it ?
      This may sound very basic,but from all my conversations with muslims about Islam, I don’t believe they have an answer to this.
      But by posing the question surely it will make them think again about the men wanting it done & fathers/mothers allowing it to be done.

  15. Claire Jauffret permalink
    December 30, 2013 20:53

    Sign this petition at

    Pass it to your friends.

  16. Adil Dafa'Alla on behalf of the Sudanese community association of Bristol permalink
    December 30, 2013 21:10

    Hi all,
    Social issues cannot be dealt with by emotion or threat. so, let us agree to take these two elements out of the discussion in order to achieve a fruitful end.

    Hence, let us put this debate back in context and ensure that we are not alienating those members of the affected communities, who we need to win in order to help us to eradicate this horrific practice.

    By the way, it might be interesting to note that those affected communities do not call the practice “female genital mutilation” and may even find this “label” offensive to both their practice and intent! For example, the Arabic name for the practice is “Tahara”, which means “cleanliness” and it is intended to show that the aim of the practice is to preserve the cleanliness of the body and purification of the soul. History tells us that people are often prepared to die for such “noble” objectives, let alone go to jail!

    Considering such background, one can easily and objectively see that threats of the law will only be a futile attempt to eradicate the practice, it will only drive it even more underground.

    And, by the way, what would a child gain by her parents sent to jail, she and her other under-aged brothers and sisters taken into care and their families completely disintegrated and destroyed for acting in the believe that they are doing the best to their child! Is this the success we want to achieve?!

    I know that statistics are often used loosely and casually, but has any body tried to find out how many of those who were victims of this practice actually want their parents to be brought before a court and jailed as a result of what they did to them? Has any one cared to ask how proud these victims of their parents and appreciative to what their parents have generally offered them in their lives? They may not be happy about this particular decision which was taken by their parents on their behalf, however, all in all they could be quite satisfied with their overall bringing up, couldn’t they?

    I was really taken back by the comments of some of us who have never come close enough to these communities and all their knowledge about them is through second hand sources of information and yet advocating criminalising communities and using the “stick”, and never a “carrot”, to solve such a complex social problem. In fact, such an approach is the easy way out, but never effective. This is what human history tells us. Assuming that UK is unique and different and hence isolated from human experience is an interesting claim to make.

    Legislation is respected in democratic communities. like ours, because people are convinced with the democratic system they live in and prepared to sacrifice their lives for. Therefore, the real force of the law is not stemmed from the threat of jail or even execution, but from the conviction of the people that the law is a fair representation of their values. Once this conviction is shaken, the law will automatically loose its strength and dissatisfied people will be happy to ignore.

    Therefore, it is of paramount importance that we carry out these communities with us and never give up on them. And, the world-wide experience shows that this is possible.

    Hence, let us not give up on them, campaign tirelessly amongst them and work closely with them in order to bring an end to the FGM in the UK. Education and public awareness comes first then at some stage, when we win the majority of the members of these communities, legislation may come in as an icing on the cake of our success if required to remove a minority hard core that proved to be difficult to deal with otherwise. When we win the community, legislation will come as an expression of the democratic consensus of the affected communities and hence would be accepted by all. But, we are not there yet.

    • December 30, 2013 22:55

      “Social issues are never solved by threat”? They why have a criminal law at all? This is not limited to the UK. I do not know which of the Sudanese religious community you are from, but if you are a Muslim, remember that a number of effective threats are a part of Sharia as given in the Qu’ran, for example, cutting off a hand of a repeating thief. If you are a Christian, read Romans 13.

      About what history really tells us, read up on the campaign to eradicate the Thugs in India. Or, indeed, what about the suppression of slavery in Sudan under British rule? In more mundane things, threat is an essential part of enforcing road safety – all the ads and seminars in the world do not replace police patrols and speed cameras. Everywhere where a social problem is tackled by the state, threat plays a large part. This is because, if a problem can be fixed with no threat, civil society will manage it without state interference.

      No, I do not agree to take threat out of the discussion. Threat must be an integral part of resolving this problem if it can ever be resolved. Not the only part but a very important part. Only with the background of effective threat can education and other alternatives be effective, and this applies to all serious crime. There should be a big and effective stick, and also a carrot. For example, to reduce theft, the modern state gives people the dole (so they don’t have to steal or die from hunger), but it also jails thieves. Without jailing thieves, no amount of dole would work.

      No one in their right mind cares if a rapist does not want to call what he does “rape”, or if a murderer thinks he is “restoring family honour”. Why should one care if some people do not want to acknowledge that what they are doing is female genital mutilation, if they are doing just that? I might see some sense in such sensitivity in Africa, but they have chosen to live in the UK, they must obey the law of the UK, and this law classifies it as what it is, mutilation. And yes, I am an immigrant too and it applies to me as well.

      A child being sexually abused, prostituted or mutilated by their parents – these things do happen in all communities – might still believe they love the parents, but in reality such a child is in grave danger, and would get a lot of good from being transferred to a foster family.

      They are prepared to die? Well, heroin addicts are also prepared to die for their dose, and this is why they go and push the drug – shall we let them off?

      The simple first rule must be to treat FGM as the serious crime it is. The crime is made more heinous by the sanction from parents, people who are charged with protection of the child. I have no desire to be soft and cuddly to parents who rape, prostitute, or mutilate their children, or enable such acts.

      Finally,. I strongly and fully disagree with the claim that UK legislation has to represent “an expression of the democratic consensus of the affected communities”. It represents an expression of the democratic consent of the British people as a whole (or one of the four constituent peoples of the kingdom, that is English/Welsh/Scotch/Northern Irish, for devolved areas). The communities have zero right to disobey that consent, their background notwithstanding.

  17. December 30, 2013 22:01

    Reply to Ramedik.
    Prosecuting pro FGM comments is one thing but it will never be done by weak fearful politicians.
    Educating the Imams/preachers to promote NO FGM, is better.
    Any leader refusing to give this advice could then be fined/prosecuted, they should all be discouraging this mutilation.
    Regrettably this also means Muhammad was wrong when he said ‘ Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband ‘ when he should have said DO NOT cut at all.

    I repeat, the change has to come from the male fraternity…it’s actually in the husbands interest to have a wife who enjoys sex & his love making.
    Of course many will say she could turn to other men if he can’t satisfy her……….but she could either way, it’s all part of this complex way of conditioning.
    This is where trust comes in.

    • December 30, 2013 23:05

      I have to defend Muhammad here, even though I’m a Christian. Muhammad was an able military commander working to build a lasting empire. I do not personally believe he was a prophet, but he was creating a set of laws intended to stabilize and govern a powerful state (and he probably had a good team of wise, learned people supporting him). He could not afford to overturn ALL the customs of the tribes which his empire was starting to encompass, as it would only cause rebellion. So he wrote “do not cut severely” to try and suppress at least the worst part. (And that was a man who did understand the value of passionate women, considering the number of wives he had. I understand this kind of view on women is troubling for a modern reader, but such were the times – at least he was in this regard better than Genghis Khan, another conqueror of roughly the same era, who openly boasted of rape).

      Do agree that educating the Imams might work as something more palatable to politicians, and is a necessary part anyway. Educating men might work too except I’m not sure how one would do it (except at school for the younger ones).

  18. Joanna McKenzie permalink
    December 30, 2013 23:26

    My best idea: you want a staged campaign. To start, you need clear reporting lines for girls at risk or who fear being taken abroad for this. Reporting needs to result in clear, non-criminal action, which might include a visit from a trained counsellor, preferably in the family’s language, to facilitate discussions between the family members. Where a child is at immediate risk, there must be a clear and well-publicized route where they can request help and protection, perhaps placing them under the supervision and care of a sympathetic family member. Removal to state care would be a last resort. Once the child is no longer at immediate risk, family counseling could begin. However that only deals in a reactive manner.

    The second stage would be a grassroots educational campaign through schools, community groups, and perhaps charities or mosques where amenable and relevant. Focussing on facilitating discussion within the community rather than lecturing, information about fgm should be made available for discussion. Opening this for discussion opens it for questioning, and as fgm is not a requirement of Islam many communities are likely to reject it when it becomes apparent that it’s not normal.

    The third stage is totally changing cultural attitudes to female sexuality across all the diverse cultures in the UK. We need to lose the idea of female virginity being sacred, the virgin/whore dichotomy, and the idea that women are the gatekeepers of male sexual morality. We have to get used to the idea that women can enjoy sex and that’s a good thing rather than a sign of immorality. And we need to stop thinking of exposed female skin as any sort of invitation. These are deeply embedded cultural norms, but fgm is only one example of how harmful they are. If we change these narratives, much of the underlying motivation for fgm will disappear. This requires white Britain to change too, but we will all be the stronger for it.

  19. Sousan permalink
    December 31, 2013 00:13

    data is available young girls should not be having genital surgery – they are – audit those cases – I do not believe any parent would give consent for cosmetic surgery on a child under 14 – get the public health info dept to give you their ethnic origin ( mandatory data) the fact the “ethics” committee is making guidelines. Suggests that this is a loophole

    • Susanne de Nimes permalink
      January 2, 2014 11:14

      //” I do not believe any parent would give consent for cosmetic surgery on a child under 14″//

      Of course they do, all the time. Thousands upon thousands of young boys are forced to undergo genital surgery every year in the UK.

      That is entirely cosmetic, yet it is defended under the name of “religion”.

    • January 2, 2014 12:50

      Yes, male infant circumcision does occur in the UK (and much more, in the USA, where it’s a lucrative practice). Genital surgery linked to body image etc is also however a concern in the UK, and is done on girls as well as women: Is there any way that these facts can be assembled to show us as citizens more ways to eradicate FGM?

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 5, 2014 16:37

      Good point, Sousan. Cosmetic surgery to the vulva, when not needed for clearly defined medical purposes, is FGM.

  20. sousan permalink
    December 31, 2013 16:29

    THE KEY IS EDUCATION MY thoughts are on several strands and I would like very much to address one of the above posts one issue at a time to prevent straw arguments from arising

    “the Arabic name for the practice is “Tahara”, which means “cleanliness” and it is intended to show that the aim of the practice is to preserve the cleanliness of the body and purification of the soul. History tells us that people are often prepared to die for such “noble” objectives, let alone go to jail!”

    1. HUMAN BIOLOGY 101
    This is a very interesting view from another culture.. Here’s my response.
    The fact that when I have sex, arousal means that my vagina becomes wet denotes a normal biological response to a normal biological function. This, in my culture, in no way implies that my physical response to arousal is unclean, nor does it imply that my soul is impure.

    On the other hand I do not consider the desire to remove the sexual response from a child as if she is a person of no worth in her own right, viewing her merely a piece of meat to be used at the whim of another as an act which is “Clean ” a sign of “purity” and with the last breath I take I’ll yell that this is one of the most ignoble, perverted and disgusting attacks on a child ever devised.

    Before you get offended by my viewpoint please respect my culture and my right to believe this – I promise Its an objective that I would be prepared to fight to the last for.

    I will look up and report studies on the phenomenon of how abused children often try not to get the abusers prosecuted. I want to use 21 century evidence for this. Its too important to think that we could be fooled into being “polite” and using the “intuitive respect “we all feel for ancient cultures to give a free pass to what in our secular society is a crime.

    Please feel free to challenge my viewpoint that vaginas are not unclean, their owners are not impure and that removing a persons sexual response IS an ignoble and barbaric act.

    NOTE from Hilary

    Sousan has very kindly now also provided some links which inform this debate:…,%20Prosecution%20and%20Pre-trial%20Processes/recognising-and-reporting-sexual-ass?print

    Click to access 209039.pdf

    The people saying we should respect the wish of FGM victims not to prosecute are not recognising the violent nature of what the perpetrators do. I think the psychological effect is identical in sexual abuse by family member and FGM The difficulty lies in getting the perpetrators (and their apologists) to have the empathy to see that.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 5, 2014 16:40

      Absolutely, Hilary. I know that at the trial in May-June 2012 in Nevers, Burgundy, of a Guinean couple charged with excising their daughters, the girls vehemently protested their parents’ innocence. But FGM carries with it a kind of brainwashing-by-silence, an “omerta”.
      FGM is a taboo subject among practising communities, so a victim will not receive the physical and psychological support she desperately needs.

      FGM is abuse is abuse is abuse.

    • January 7, 2014 21:47

      My psychologist colleague Ron Stewart has sent me the following observations (now published with his permission) in response to our discussion here about empathy and FGM:

      I would argue that FGM, in serving the needs of powerful groups in the traditional societies that practice it, is functional. Thus, in such societies intra-societal perceptions privilege the need for the preservation of ‘purity’, ‘honour’, monogamy and so on which FGM has evolved to maintain. Empathy in such societies is identical in terms of process to the Western concept. But the content is the opposite of what anti-FGM ideology is about. For example, a neighbour may empathise with a mother with an uncircumcised daughter who is past the age-appropriate stage for this to have occurred, or a potential suitor lack empathy for a father who is offering up an uncircumcised daughter for marriage. No lack of empathy there, just empathy for the ‘wrong’ things!

      In order to change the objects of empathy, it is non-productive to aim to develop the process of empathy qua process, i.e. free of content.. At the macro-level, FGM needs to be demonstrated as dysfunctional, that it does not deliver on the values of liberal democracies. (Both negative and positive sanctions have a place here.) It requires an analysis of how empathy can be reconfigured so that the deprivations and traumas of children and women, and of men too, are recognised and how the appropriate empathic responses to such suffering, as we see it, can be evoked through education. This, of course, is what you and your colleagues are doing in such a useful way.

      The challenge is to bring about necessary change through means which enable traditional practitioners of FGM to feel that they are active participants in the process, and not just passive recipients of western ‘wisdom’.

  21. Adil Dafa'Alla on behalf of the Sudanese community association of Bristol permalink
    December 31, 2013 23:11

    Hi all,

    Thanks to all the comments and responses I received on my post above.

    I have requested in my post to take emotion out of the discussion. Surely, some of the responses proved me right.

    Demands to treat parents of FGM victims the way we treat thieves, thugs of India and heroin addicts can only serve to highlight the importance of taking emotion, if not threat, out of the discussion as they are clearly highly charged with emotion.

    Likewise, equating parents who deliberately and criminally sexually abuse their children with those parents who quite ignorantly practicing FGM on their daughters out of love because they believe this is the best thing for them, irrespective of whether we agree with them or not, is clearly wrong and completely out of proportion.

    And, I really wonder why we should respect the democratic consensus of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, but, at the same time, ignore the democratic right of other significant minorities within the British society! I am not sure which version of democracy we will be applying in this case!

    It will also help if we avoid inaccurate quotes and evidence. It was quoted above that Muhammad said ‘Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband‘. If this quote is accurate, we would have found the majority of Muslims hasting to circumcise their daughters. The fact is that this practice among Muslims is largely confined to the African Muslims. The majority of Muslims, however, live in Asia and do not practice FGM. This clearly shows that there was no instruction by Muhammad to his followers to do it. However, let us not deviate from the main issue, which is the FGM in the UK.

    I have also sensed from one of the comments above that I had been misunderstood as an advocate of FGM or, at least, support the argument that it helps physical or moral cleanliness of the victim. This is obviously not my view on the issue, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent significant amount of my time as a university student campaigning against it in my home country of Sudan as I mentioned in my previous posts. What I tried to bring your attention to, however, is the background against which campaigners against FGM will be working. With these kind of ignorant believes, the argument will not be whether we legislate now or not. It will be about understanding the context of the problem and challenging these misconceptions through educations and public awareness campaigns, verily not by sending parent to jail.

    Yes, I want you Sousan, together with all of us, to yell with the last breath we take that this is one of the most ignoble, perverted and disgusting attacks on a child ever devised and we want it to stop without alienating the communities we are supposed to help. And we will continue to do so together until we win the majority within the affected communities and bring this horrific practice to an end. Yes, it is a long and difficult road, but our goal certainly worth it.

    And, as I said in my previous post, once the time is right and we isolate a minority hard core that need to be dealt with by the force of the law that represent the democratic consensus of the affected communities, the courts can then be used as part of our armoury in our fight to eradicate FGM in the UK.

    Hope this helps to put the horse back before the cart.

    Best Regards.

    • January 1, 2014 11:04

      Adil and other friends here,

      We may not, very one of us, agree about everything concerning this as you say ‘highly emotive’ issue, but I want to thank you all for the courtesy and carefulness of your responses.

      That respect for different views is, as we all recognise, the really important thing to remember in these difficult, often distressing, debates.

      Let’s hope that 2014 is the year when between us and with many others, FGM is finally and irrevocably steered towards history.

      I hope, despite the terrible subject to hand, that it’s OK to wish everyone a very happy New Year!

      Thank you again,

    • January 1, 2014 14:48

      Thakns for your response Adil. I do now understand your position better as it comes from campaigning within Sudan. I would probably support it for Sudan. But I think you are missing a key difference between the UK and Sudan in this respect.

      You write about ignoring the democratic right of minorities, But in fact no minority has a democratic right to be a law unto themselves, whether in this issue or, for example, in the issue of religious freedom, that is freedom of every person to convert to another religion (a problem for some, not all, Muslims). They all participate in one common British (or, on devolved areas, English/Scotch/Welsh/NI) democratic process and have to obey, yes obey, its results. They are not separate societies but a part of British society, by virtue of their choice to live in Britain. And British culture (or constituent parts) have a clear and unambiguous view on female genital mutilation. This view, not the view of any minority, forms the basis of the law. Multiculturalism might have its place in fods and festivals, it has zero place in law and its enforcement.

      (There is certain recognition for two separate big communities in Northern Ireland but even there, it only applies to the form of the democratic process. The law itself is one for all, as it should be).

      So, while I agree with the need for education, we differ on what is the horse and what is the cart in the UK (not Sudan). I believe a clearly enforced British law is the horse, and education in British values is the cart. And this does not just apply to this one issue, but to all issues where any form of physical violence is concerned.

      My view applies to ALL immigrants, and that includes me. I am originally from Russia and I personally do not agree with same-sex marriage. However, if the upcoming Irish Referendum legalizes it, I will obey the majority of the people that I chose to join (by living here and being naturalized).

    • January 1, 2014 16:32

      And to clarify – by “education in British values” I do not mean assimilation but only respect for the very basic rights of the person. The British people as a whole – which includes every citizen, whatever their background – has firmly decided to protest such rights;

      It is highly inhumane to deny some individuals protection, to which they are entitled by law, just because they happen to be a part of a particular community. It is especially inhumane in the case of immigrant communities, because immigrants (again, this includes me) have made the choice to live in their new country, and, whether they understand it or not, they have made this choice specifically because of the strong protection of individual rights that the country guarantees.

      Some immigrants are refugees, who are directly seeking protection from violence. It would be highly hypocritical for refugees or their descendants to disregard, or even try to dampen by reference to “culture”, the very protection that they sought in the first place!

      Other immigrants, including myself, are economic migrants. But we have to recognize that a part of the reason the economic outlook was good for us is exactly the protection of individual rights that enables all people to participate fully in the economy, without shackles of ancient tradition.

      Immigrants need to own their choice and to accept the basic respect for other people, including those in the same community, that is a necessary consequence of this choice. Or to put it in the simplest terms, those I’d use for my 8 year old son, “these are the rules in this place”.

      It was different in colonial-times Sudan, where it were the British who made the choice to invade a country and try to impose their own values in it. One can certainly understand the resentment of people who are told what to do in their own home even if, objectively. the British were right in this case.

      Also, very importantly, I am NOT stating that current British values are in any way the result of some inherent goodness of either Britain or lighter-skinned people. Britain was not always a beacon of protecting human rights, just look at the repeated debacles in Ireland througр the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and more recently its disastrous participation in aggression in Iraq.

      Also here is a little-known fact – “white” people have practiced FGM. Yes they did, at least in the United States, though probably not widely. A certain Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in the USA practiced it. In his book “Plain facts for old and young” he writes:

      “A little girl about ten years of age was brought to us by her father, who came with his daughter to have her broken of the vile habit of self-abuse into which she had fallen, having been taught it by a German servant girl. Having read an early copy of this work, the father had speedily detected the habit, and had adopted every measure which he could devise to break his child of the destructive vice which she had acquired, but in vain. After applying various other measures without success, it finally became necessary to resort to a surgical operation, by which it is hoped that she was permanently cured, as we have heard nothing to the contrary since, and as the remedy seemed to be effectual.”


      Side glance to site owner: I wonder if you knew this one, Hilary. Honestly no idea if they learned from Africa or came to it on their own.

    • January 1, 2014 17:59

      Thanks Ramendik, yes, I am very aware that in the USA (and UK) ‘white’ people have practised FGM, aka clitoridectomy; I’ve researched this for, and included it in, my forthcoming book. There are examples up to the 1950s (UK) and even later (USA).

      Now, of course, there is a major issue with medicalization – against which WHO is campaigning very seriously. ‘Medical’ FGM is mainly practised in places like Egypt.

      The dangers of this involvement by trained – and paid – clinicians (shame on them) include the possibility that this approach will somehow make FGM seem respectable and modern.

    • January 1, 2014 18:35

      I’ll be waiting for the book to come out then. I pretty much stumbled upon Kellogg in unrelated historical inquiry, and I was unaware it survived so late, though perhaps with the fate of Turing as late as the 1940s it should not have been a surprise. One wonders if it was tried as a “cure” for lesbianism.

      More to the point, lack of information on this side of things creates an unfortunate tendency to see the issue as racial.

      As you researched this, perhaps you would know whether the practice was developed independently or somehow, perhaps by means of members of colonial forces, was spread from Africa? And also, with Victorian times being the high tide both of colonialism and of the kind of “racial science” that saw “Negroes” as uncontrollably emotional, did colonial rulers actually encourage it in Africa, or even spread it to areas where it was not practiced before?

    • January 1, 2014 18:59

      Hi again. In haste, for now, I think you’ll find some interesting info here:, especially if you scroll down towards the end.
      It’s thought by the way that FGM in its various forms arose quite independently in several parts of the world, going back thousands of years in some case (such as Egypt, again).
      There seem to be many ‘explanations’ for why it started – which is also one of the reasons it’s so difficult to stop.

  22. January 1, 2014 19:29

    Perhaps a partnership with higher education institutions in the UK to specifically raise awareness among the student population.

  23. Susanne de Nimes permalink
    January 1, 2014 22:26

    What are people suggesting we teach young people about forced genital cutting?

    Why are we saying to them it is wrong?

    Of course I think it is, but what is it we will say to young people?

    That it’s wrong to cut off the citrons, but not the clitoral hood? That it’s wrong to cut off more than a certain amount of tissue? That it’s wrong to cut off ANY tissue, but only if the victim is female?

    We need to make a concerted effort to teach all young people that each and every single human – male, female, intersex – should be free from unnecessary cutting of their bodies.

    If we teach a consistent, consent-based message of bodily integrity and the right to decide what happens to one’s own body, then we must teach that ALL unnecessary genital cutting of those who can’t consent is wrong, from infibulation to the tiniest pinprick. It can also tie in with much-needed lessons about consent to sex, and rape.

    It is hypocritical, and counter-productive to our actual goals to focus on infibulation as if it is the extent of harm that makes genital cutting wrong, rather than the principle of the act.

  24. Adil Dafa'Alla on behalf of the Sudanese community association of Bristol permalink
    January 1, 2014 23:24

    Thanks Ramendik for your emotion-free response this time. I believe this is a commended progress.

    I don’t think I am missing the difference between the UK and Sudan as I firmly believe that human experience is a valuable heritage of all mankind, wherever and whenever it does exist. Therefore, it is not at all demeaning to the UK to learn from other peoples experiences.

    However, the thing which is really got confused here is the difference between the legislative process in democratic and totalitarian regimes.

    As Hilary is acting within the great democratic system of the UK, she is trying to build support for her idea of a legislation, win the public through engagement, gather signatures for her supporters, convince a parliamentarian to adopt the idea and present it to the Parliament that will debate it thoroughly listening to all sides of the argument before voting on it. This is why once a law is passed, it really reflects the democratic values of the society. It also shows clearly that the only horse in the UK is the democratic consensus of the people, not the law.

    However, in Northern Korea, for example, it is enough for the “inspired” leader to decide on behalf of the society as He knows best and his words become the law ignoring the whole society, let alone the democratic consensus of the minorities.

    This is why I am glad to live in the UK, not Northern Korea.

    Hope this will again bring us back from deviations to the basic question of how best to fight FGM in the UK.

    Best Regards and Happy New Year to all.

    • January 1, 2014 23:40

      Actually the law on this issue has already been passed democratically. This is why I stated that the British people has expressed its clear democratic will.

      The petitions are, as far as I can understand, not for a new law. They are for strict enforcement of existing law. And no communities within Britain can claim exemption to the law of the land, once the people as a whole, through Parliament, has made the decision. And that is the case for quite a few years now.

    • January 1, 2014 23:49

      Thank you Ramendik and Adil. You are quite right that I personally want to see greater enforcement of the law (and maybe its improvement, to be more water-tight).

      But of course this debate, now, is much bigger than what I want to be done – it’s an opportunity to discover what you and others judge to be the most effective ways that the Guardian might propose, for us all to move forward towards eradicating FGM.

      There are two blogs here, one concerning the UK, and one for global actions. More ideas on both / either will be most welcome!

  25. January 2, 2014 06:29

    I’m sorry Hilary, but you may want the legal system to fight your cause, but you are ignoring some vital facts.
    1] Regardless of a comment here about FGM being a noble deed … [ it’s the first I’ve heard of that angle] no one seems to accept the true reason why FGM is done.
    It’s all tied up with virginity,just like a husband has to produce bloodied sheets to relatives the morning after the wedding to prove he married a virgin.
    This is taken so seriously the NHS already performs Hymenoplasty for girls who fear being rejected by a new husband when he finds she has already had sex with someone before him.That’s also tied up with honour killing.

    2] FGM is performed often on young girls of five who are not going to report their aunts,grannies or mothers for cutting them & risk their wrath.
    3] The law can only act ‘after’ the damage is done.
    4] Making something illegal to muslims…for instance, is irrelevant when the only law they live by is Allah’s/Sharia law.
    5] Treating this as a simple,albeit abhorrent, crime is naive & needs more in-depth thought.

    Educating the younger generation to demand relatives give them privacy on sexual matters could be a start, the law cannot do that.
    Empower the young to take charge of their bodies,relationships & privacy, change the mindset of new young parents to stop the practise.

    Yes there should be some recourse for girls to report their fears, but in practical terms what can authorities do when the family simply take the child on ‘holiday’ & commit the crime outside the UK ?
    Whether it’s religious or cultural, those outside this culture have to understand the whole picture.

    I suggest everyone reads Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel & read what was done to her in Somalia by her relatives,she writes about the fear & experience vividly & in detail.

    • January 3, 2014 05:48

      Well yes & no, the child is still maimed & had to go through the ghastly process.
      Let’s see what the punishment is…..a $50 fine ?

      All that will happen in the UK is that, these people will simply go to one of their own doctors….god knows there’s enough of them in our medical service & who knows some probably perform the actual cutting .
      It must already happen when there’s an infection with a cutting that’s been performed in less than sterile surroundings.
      So maybe that’s somewhere to start make it compulsory for all doctors, Muslim/African doctors to report with a possibility of losing their licence.
      Until now far too many have been treated with kid gloves for fear of police being labelled as racist.

      It does beg the question of whether fathers & mothers check the girls genitals when she becomes a teenager…if they suspect she has a boyfriend, to find out if she’s been a ‘good girl’ , we all know what happens if they are proved right.

      This whole culture has to stop, the young must have more privacy & be given rights over their own bodies.

    • January 3, 2014 09:47

      Thanks. For info:

      Maximum punishment in UK is 14 years’ jail (you may be interested in the French way of doing things, here: ).

      Also, there’s a @MandateNow campaign to require (of professionals / formal carers) statutory reporting of any suspected child abuse. Do you think this is a good way forward?

  26. PCC Sue Mountstevens permalink
    January 3, 2014 16:15

    Dear Hilary,

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to this important piece of work. The list you have is very comprehensive indeed and I have read with great interest the follow up comments. I’d like to add the following few suggestions which from my perspective should be included if we are to think about how agencies can work together better and how the ‘system’ can provide better protection and support:

    – Leaders within the relevant fields (including Health, CYPS, Police, Education) should ensure that FGM is recognised as child abuse by all relevant professionals and that suitable action is taken as a result;

    – We need to ensure that these agencies have the processes and technology to record and flag victims or girls at risk of FGM on their systems; and

    – We need to ensure that these agencies routinely share intelligence so that prevalence and risk can be understood and acted upon. Moreover, without a clear picture it is difficult to properly allocate resources.

    Crucially, as identified in your proposed list, the reporting and referral of cases is imperative.

    As you know I am very committed to tackling FGM. I wish you all the very best with this project and look forward to hearing how you get on.

    With very best wishes,

    Sue Mountstevens
    Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset

    • January 3, 2014 16:23

      Sue, thank you so much for this!
      I am very grateful to you and our other contributors for the really positive suggestions and ideas shared here.
      Will keep you posted!

  27. Melanie Newbould permalink
    January 4, 2014 09:18

    Think there is a problem with the law in England- pointed out by many legal scholars! Basically cosmetic surgery and piercings are fully legal- where as FGM is unlawful. Thus there is a problem with the law- a procedure may be lawful or unlawful dependent on motive- a bizarre position. Surely we need to make genital cosmetic surgery unlawful- it is FGM by another name. Clearly this is a point made very frequently- but it does need addressing.

    • January 4, 2014 12:56

      Actually there are many things that it is perfectly legal for adults to do to themselves, but illegal for anyone, including themselves and parents, to do to children…

      And it turns out you are QUITE RIGHT, Melanie – in the UK, there does not seem to be legal protection of children from cosmetic piercing, as opposed to tattoos!

      Yes this should be fixed to send a clear message that, while what adults do to themselves is their own business, you DON’T surgically mutilate a healthy body of a child. One can make an exception specifically for ear piercing perhaps, but nothing else.

    • January 4, 2014 21:07

      Yes,but how does the law stand when FGM is committed on a British girl, by non British citizens living outside the UK ? The perpetrators cannot be punished by UK….can they ?

    • January 4, 2014 21:13

      Will try to get a clear answer for you, Katie…

    • January 5, 2014 08:15

      Thank you Hilary, I do think it’s something we need to know.

    • Alice Edwards permalink
      January 8, 2014 08:13

      I recently completed a research paper examining the impact of comparisons between FGM and female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) on efforts to end FGM in the UK. The fact that girls under the age of 18 are being presented to have their genitals modified was of great concern to those I interviewed (health professionals, educators, lawyers and campaigners who work with affected communities). First and foremost in everyone’s mind was was that non-medical genital surgery, whether perceived as cultural or cosmetic, should not be performed on girls under 18 and current legislation should be strengthened so this is explicitly laid out.

  28. Andrew Clarke permalink
    January 4, 2014 11:28

    One key issue is that the type of people who are affected by FGM tend not to access media such as the Guardian or the BBC. Instead, they tend to access outlets such as Al Jazeera. It is these kind of media outlets which need to be targeted as an avenue for putting information across in order to make people realise how wrong FGM is.

    • January 4, 2014 11:33

      Thanks Andrew, good point (though not ‘just’) Al Jazeera – who do in fact cover FGM on occasion). Since we’re considering what Guardian readers can actually do, this might be an action?

  29. Vera Lustig permalink
    January 4, 2014 16:07

    We’ve faffed around for long enough; let’s get some prosecutions. If the great British public won’t buy the French idea of examining every child’s genitals regularly up till the age of 6, that’s a great shame. And I use the word “shame” advisedly. Recently a boy in the UK died thanks to medical negligence, and one of the issues that came to the fore was the fact that the doctors missed crucial symptoms because they were afraid to examine the child naked.

    More to follow.

    • January 4, 2014 21:10

      Personally I think submitting a child for those tests is abhorrent & not the answer, parents can simply offer up the child for FGM at the age of 7.

    • Alice Edwards permalink
      January 8, 2014 08:32

      Genital examinations, conducted by trained health professionals, offer an opportunity to communicate positive messages about genital appearance and health to ALL children and the adults who will be accompanying them. We must avoid associating genital examinations as some sort of sexual behaviour. Its a health check that is just as necessary for our genitals as it is for any other part of our body.

  30. January 4, 2014 18:08

    * In the UK and for that matter in EU countries:
    Inform families that hurting their children even for the sake of tradition, will be a reason to ‘suspend’ family allowance ( social workers taking over the management of the allowance, in the best interest of the child).

    * Organize in embassies and consulates in countries of immigration where FGM is practiced appropriate information on the standards and rules in GB ( EU countries):
    .. the rights and duties of citizens, not only focused on FGM and forced/underage marriage.
    (I have ideas for videos as immigrants may be illiterate).
    Visas would be delivered with a mention that relevant information was given and understood by the applicant.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 6, 2014 17:06

      Bonjour Linda Weil-Curiel. Good to hear from you.

      Yes, I agree with all your points above. But the Brits still don’t seem to have taken on board the observations you (and Isabelle Gillette-Faye of GAMS) made to me in 2012.

      In France, as most readers of this thread will know, there have been over 40 prosecutions, thanks to Linda’s perseverance. The French (forgive me if I repeat points already made in this forum) do the following:

      Make the alleged victim, and any of her sisters at risk, a ward of court, so that she cannot be “influenced” by her family/community before or during a prosecution. Given that campaigners in the UK receive death threats and are assaulted, I suspect that some of that “influence” might be hard to resist. Let’s come to terms with the fact that not everyone in practising communities is a saint.

      Couldn’t we change the law if necessary so that ForwardUK or a similar NGO, could take a civil action?

      Genital examinations for all children, regardless of race or gender. Might detect other forms of abuse, as a bonus.

      Other suggestions I’d like to make:

      Reduce custodial sentences if perps are prepared to name names. Communities close ranks around cutters, and we need to get hold of them.

      Radically change the education for new arrivals in the UK. Make it clear that FGM/Forced Marriage/Breast Ironing are illegal. Nobody should be able to plead ignorance of the law.

      And yes, Breast ironing is illegal, even though there isn’t a specific law against it in the UK. It’s a form of torture. Same goes for FGM when practised in this country. The 1985 Act only stated the obvious.

      [Note from Hilary: here’s one recent report about breast ironing, in case anyone wants further info – In Cameroon, women “iron” daughters’ breasts to ward off men]

  31. January 5, 2014 00:57

    Hi, Hilary. As requested (and in response to Katie’s query @ 21.07), this is the legal position regarding FGM abroad:

    1. The 2003 Act extends the jurisdiction of the UK courts in certain circumstances.
    2. Section 4 extends the core offences (Sections 1-3) to acts by a UK national or permanent resident abroad.
    3. Thus, if a UK citizen mutilates (or assists, solicits in a mutilation) abroad, it is presumed by law that the act in effect took place in the UK and would be subject to criminal sanction.
    4. If a UK citizen in the UK arranges for a mutilation abroad, that would be an offence: Section 3.
    5. A non-UK citizen is in the UK who arranges for a mutilation abroad would be guilty of an offence. So here is an example of a non-UK national/resident being guilty of a mutilation abroad.
    6. However, in the scenario Katie poses, it is questionable that UK law would apply to a foreign national who mutilates a girl abroad.

    Hope this assists.
    Happy to clarify further.


    You can find more on FGM at:
    Twitter @DexterDiasQC

  32. January 5, 2014 09:16

    If you mean UK and not just England then it is necessary to involve the Scottish Government as health, education and social care are devolved issues.

    Why not align FGM with mainline anti-Child Abuse campaigning, Amnesty International etc and not keep it separate- 2 forces are better than one…After all FGM is child abuse and a feminist issue

    Clinical staff dealing with childhood and maternal/gynaecological health require a firm educational background- specially community and GP staff. And I would suggest ALL medical and nursing students.

    With childhood/community clinics it is essential to chase up nonattenders/ hard to reach families as they might well be in the FGM subculture. Top down support for all staff dealing with such cases or possible cases is essential, as it is difficult work to change and oppose such entrenched FGM behaviour. Possibly targettd areas of high incidence should get special input?

    • January 5, 2014 09:32

      Thanks Penny. On a couple of specifics, you may be interested to know that recently some of us made common cause with the Mandate Now people [@MandateNow], who are campaigning for required reporting of suspected child abuse, and are now looking at how that could / should include FGM. And yes, this does indeed include Scotland and the Scottish Government is beginning to take an active concern for FGM. Jenny Marra MSP has a particular concern [and there is a campaigning group called DARF – Dignity Alert & Research Forum / @darf_charity.]

  33. Alan Caton OBE permalink
    January 5, 2014 11:18

    Dear Hilary,

    Thank you for the opportunity to be able to contribute to this important debate. There is no doubt in my mind that FGM is a barbaric and cruel practice which needs to end.

    There are some really good and comprehensive points made in this thread and I make the following comments;

    In my view there needs to be an overarching strategy that requires all agencies to understand the issues of FGM. There is not one agency alone that can deal with this issue alone but collectively the power of all agencies working together can be immense and deliver succesful outcomes.

    The strategy needs to encompass much of what has already been discussed on this thread and to specifically include;

    Engagement with communities, working with the most affected communities providing advice and support.

    Education, I fully support the need for this subject to be discussed in schools under the PSHE programme.

    Reporting and referral, agencies need to know what to do if they have any concerns,about a child or woman who is a victim of FGM or a potential victim. Having specially trained front line staff in all agencies namely health, police, social services, schools etc.

    FGM needs to be high on the agenda of Government and should be part of all Areas strategic plans, e.g Joint Strategic Needs Assessments, Health and Wellbeing Board Strategies, Police and Crime Commissioners Plans, LSCB Plans etc.

    Health professionals are most likely to be the ones who come into contact with victims, they need to be educated and trained to be able to identify and deal sympathetically with victims and also to identify women and girls who are at high risk of being victims. Referring and sharing information and intelligence with partner agencies where necessary.

    Police need to concentrate on gathering intelligence on those who may be instrumental in facilitating this act with a view to taking forward prosecutions. The police also need to prioritise identifying victims and in particular the cutters who carry out this awful practice.

    Information sharing: It is vital that agencies feel comfortable in sharing their concerns. Many instances of FGM are quite simply cases of child abuse and there should be no excuse for agencies not to share information on concerns of FGM.

    Learning from good practice elsewhere in the world.

    Whilst there is legislation within the UK that exists to combat this issue, the fact that there has been no prosecutions must tell us all that we need to take a different approach.
    This is a most barbaric, cruel and violent practice that impacts on children and women for the whole of their lives. I sincerely hope that collectively we are able to all work together to eradicate such practices in the UK and elsewhere.

    Alan Caton OBE

  34. Leanne Pook permalink
    January 5, 2014 15:53

    A review of information sharing between relevant agencies is required: the current position is that information is shared at the discretion of individuals, there is little or no follow up in relation to that intelligence and inevitably some risk factors will not be picked up and addressed. Information from Health Services such as Midwifery who deal with mothers who have had FGM & give birth to girls is in some cases passed to Social Care. It is not clear to me that there is any clear process governing this. This information is rarely, if ever, referred further to the police. As a result, the is no opportunity to consider all known information and assess the risk levels presented to the newly born girl or other older children in the family. There is reluctance to share what is perceived as soft intelligence but it should be understood that the sharing of all known information is vital if prevention & where necessary enforcement measures are to be put into place.

    PHSE should be made part of the curriculum & FGM awareness & a re-emphasis of the legislation should be part of the PHSE input. The Cruel Cut documentary recently aired on C4 showed the level of I gnorance that teenage boys & young men have about FGM & it is likely that this extends to girls too. A clear picture of the physical & psychological effects of FGM is required to show that the practice is both abusive & unacceptable. For too long, FGM has been a clandestine practice allowing those who perpetrate it to minimise its effects & to treat it as some ‘coming of age’ process.

    A change to public health policy to introduce mandatory examinations of all children for general health & well being may well act both as a deterrent & as an investigative method for FGM. Clearly those who are determined to have FGM performed on a girl will have the option of arranging it after the conclusion of any mandatory medical examination regime but it would nonetheless reinforce the national position on FGM while providing a useful opportunity to check for other childhood health concerns.

    It is clear to me that concerns about the cultural issues often mistakenly associated with FGM often mean that the response to FGM concerns is less robust than it is to other types of child abuse. While respect for diversity should be a priority throughout, the assessment of FGM concerns & risks needs to be mainstreamed in safeguarding activity until all practitioners are as familiar and adept at the identification and management of FGM risk factors as they are about other child abuse referrals.

    The media coverage in relation to FGM has in the past compromised criminal investigations. While media exposes can be useful in showing agency failings, headlines detailing an ongoing concern are more likely to alert would be perpetrators or to ensure that the gathering of evidence is hampered. Those in the media should be mindful of this & ongoing concerns regarding criminal matters should always be referred to police before further action is taken.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 6, 2014 16:52

      Thanks, Leanne Pook, for making the very important point that media coverage has compromised criminal investigation. Note the two-part undercover reports in The sunday Times of April/May 2012. The journalist Eleanor Mills, for some reason, refused to sign the document that would have allowed the police to proceed towards a prosecution.

      Recently, Eleanor Mills has written a pice in The Sunday Times, patting herself on the back for her expose, and saying that it led to one of the alleged cupprits being struck of the dental register.

      MP Jane Ellison made the same point.

      Not good enough. The man in question is now in Somalia, and anyway, the ST piece gave him a lot of free publicity.

      Let’s get real, shall we?

  35. January 5, 2014 19:08

    It may be useful to contrast the lack of prosecutions for FGM in the UK with the wide-scale reporting and huge increase in prosecutions for historical child abuse. What greater and more verifiable form of abuse could there be than the cutting away of human flesh, followed in the worst cases by clearly related gynaecological conditions? It is baffling therefore that, despite widely cited surveys of the estimated prevalence of FGM affecting girls in the UK and despite increased awareness and public outrage, there have still been no UK prosecutions for this form of grievous bodily harm.

    By contrast, there is rarely any visible physical evidence in the case of historical child abuse (HCA), but that has not prevented widespread reporting of individual cases and numerous prosecutions being brought, often leading to convictions. Of course bodily harm is not the only kind of abuse that can be inflicted. There is no question that the psychological damage is long-term for the victims of incest, child rape and serious physical and mental abuse, and there is no question that this kind of offence went unreported and unpunished in the past because it was a hidden form of crime, unrecognised in its extensiveness, and victims who spoke out were not believed. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, with much greater appreciation of the vulnerability of children to sexual and hidden physical abuse; child protection policies and campaigning bodies; and general readiness to take children’s and women’s complaints of abuse very seriously.

    For HCA, it has become much easier to achieve the prosecution of someone accused of child abuse and sexual offences, and very often with nothing more that the verbal testimony of the accusers in the absence of any forensic evidence. That has long been the case, but particularly since the Savile scandal, shifts in prosecution policy, rules of evidence and legislation being introduced to convict sex offenders and protect victims and children make it easier to bring a delayed prosecution and achieve a conviction. It means that less guilty people go free, but it is also more likely that innocent people will be convicted. In consequence, the older prison population has risen steeply in recent years, and a high proportion of those older prisoners have been convicted for historical child abuse with a proportion of them maintaining innocence. Some of them really are innocent people who have been caught in the net intended for real abusers. The merest hint now that someone was a child abuser twenty years ago will lead to a dawn raid an and arrest of a pensioner by Operation something-or-other. If he or she is innocent they have no way of disproving something that didn’t happen in the first place.

    I’m involved with an organisation that supports falsely accused carers and teachers. I have also supported campaigns for prevention and ending of FGM. There are some forms of injustice and suffering which seem to cry out to us more strongly as outrageous and needing to be addressed; and though very different these are two such causes for me. I therefore find the imbalance in prosecution responses for these two particularly ironic.

    Can anything be learned from this comparison in order to achieve prosecutions for FGM or to recompense victims? In the case of HCA, there are numerous calls for victims to come forward to report the offences. Often these calls come from no-win-no-fee solicitors who also indicate that there may be compensation payouts without the need for them to give evidence, if the accused person is dead or in prison, the compensation coming from the institution, church or local authority in which the alleged crimes took place. Various assurances are offered to the invited complainants: their victim status is taken as read, they will be considered courageous and assured that their complaints will be taken seriously, and they are told that the reasons for delay in making such claims are well known and understandable – and there are other psychological rewards that go along with the identity of being a ‘survivor’ of abuse. Higher compensation claims can be gained if the abuse was of a sexual nature. Cynical readers might see how opportunists could exploit this set up dishonestly or with good intentions but ignoring due process and legal safeguards to protect the innocent. Clearly I would not be advocating such practices to achieve prosecution of the wrong people in FGM cases but perhaps there are some useful pointers for rebalancing the score sheet and achieving prosecutions of the guilty.

    By extension, very public appeals could be made for victims of FGM to come forward and identify the perpetrators. Physical evidence would be available of course in the case of FGM, though evidence of the perpetrators and facilitators would be more elusive. Even if the knife wielder is outside of UK jurisdiction, in our globalised world they could still be named and shamed and their associates in this country could be prosecuted with a related charge – aiding and abetting – that could have a similarly deterrent effect more widely.

    We should be careful though not to wish for the same kind of over-zealous policing of FGM as has been applied in the case of historical child abuse. Not only might it lead to wrongful arrests, but as a criminologist I must endorse the argument made by Adil Dafa’Alla that a ‘carrot’ approach may be better than the ‘stick’ and a justice process needs to have legitimacy for the communities they address. We do need to ask the question: why are victims not coming forward to report whoever did this to them? Again, Adil Dafa’Alla’s points seem particularly apposite here regarding FGM victims not wanting their parents sent to jail nor their younger siblings taken into care.

    Prosecution apart, various commentators here have emphasised the importance of education, of changing attitudes, particularly male attitudes, and of publicity to extend awareness. Towards winning hearts and minds perhaps it is not only the worst cases that need to be presented, but also greater differentiation to acknowledge the real distinctions that people make between the degrees of harm done. In campaigning there is a temptation to always stress the worst case scenario. That is necessary but not to the point of denying degrees of difference along the spectrum of harm done and suffering caused. Getting more victims to speak out – anonymously if it helps – about what was done to them and how they have been affected would contribute to the ‘education’ solution recommended by commentators above.

    • January 5, 2014 19:33

      Speaking out brings up another problem. Would anyone here want the world to know about such a deeply personal thing ?
      If I were affected,would not want to advertise my strange looking genitals & discuss the ‘bits’ which were missing.
      I keep saying privacy & protection of victims is as vital as prevention.

  36. Dee permalink
    January 5, 2014 23:21

    The comments already made seem to sum up my own views on FGM and the way to end it. Firstly, We need to educate the generation currently in our schools, and this means an early intervention at primary school level. We need to make sure that all health and care professionals are aware of the issue and are prepared to tackle it head on and are supported when they do so. Finally, we do need to prosecute those who perpetrate this crime particularly those who commit FGM on multiple victims.FGM is a form of sexual and physical abuse and those who perpetrate it should not be considered to be outside of the law because of some ‘cultural’ differences. Abuse is abuse anywhere.

  37. January 6, 2014 00:25

    I agree with Dee (@23.21) that ‘cultural’ differences are not a moral excuse (& certainly not a defence in law). However, we do need a better understanding of how the social norms operate within the affected communities if we wish to achieve durable change.

    Although a lawyer – perhaps because I am one – I would caution against placing too much reliance on punitive sanction. The criminal law is important: symbolically and practically, but typically with social norms effective change comes from within rather than being externally imposed or coerced. The criminological evidence on the uneven efficacy of deterrence urges a degree of caution.

    Therefore while I strongly endorse prosecutions for FGM, I also belief that very significant effort must be directed towards work within practising communities.


  38. January 6, 2014 09:33

    I do think that in England the FGM law is also against girls+ women taken to another jurisdiction for the procedure. Everyone knows that the FGM law is any women ANY AGE, don’t they? Hence the worry about cosmetic surgery- the same procedure ON AN ADULT women can be lawful or unlawful depending what you perceive the motive to be. Surely this really muddies the water as far as prosecution is concerned

    • January 6, 2014 12:05

      Here is the law

      There is a clear exception for necessity for physical and mental health (a good thing, at least because otherwise FtM transsexuals would be affected). Otherwise it seems to prohibit all kinds of such surgery, whether for cultural or cosmetic reasons, but there might be a debate on exactly what the word “mutilate” means. (1.1 “A person is guilty of an offence if he excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris”).

      It also seems that the “all age” thing was thrown in at the last moment – 6.1 “Girl includes woman”. A random British granny is now a girl by virtue of this law.

    • Alice Edwards permalink
      January 8, 2014 08:28

      The ‘cosmetic versus cultural’ surgery is indeed contentious. There are concerns that comparing FGM with other cosmetic genital surgeries can undermine the campaign to eliminate FGM by, as you say Melanie, ‘muddying the water’. The comparison certainly shouldn’t be ignored however. It is important to recognise that both practices hinge on the overwhelming pressure for women to conform to unrealistic or unattainable gender ideals that are an integral part of patriarchal subjugation of women. If genital modifications are looked at in terms of harm, rather than cultural or cosmetic, then FGM is the more extreme practice, predominantly conducted on girls who do not have a choice in the matter. Tackling FGM should then be the primary focus, but by reflecting on FGM within the realms of women’s rights, as an extreme manifestation of gender inequality, rather than seeing it solely as a barbaric ritual conducted by ‘other’ communities opens up opportunity for dialogue around all women’s rights to bodily integrity. Rights based education within a framework that facilitates multi-cultural dialogue is, as everyone has pointed out, essential to engage all young people with understanding the underpinning issues.

      And yes, ‘girl includes woman’ is an ineffective addition to the wording of the legislation which needs to be reviewed and reformed.

  39. January 6, 2014 12:00

    The survivors of FGM should be bold enough to tell their stories without shame or fear of being purnished by their communities. There will be no purnishment that is worse than being left in a mobid state of health all of ones life because of FGM. Let them SPEAK OUT AND PLEAD WITH THE WOLRD TO HELP STOP FGM. LET THEM TELL ! They are the ones carrying the scars and they know where it hurts most. LET THEM TELL. Let the rest of us be ready to hear their cries and help them. Any one who hears a child cry, turns round to make sure someone is with the child. LET THEM CRY. It is disgraceful to be talking about FGM in this generation. FGM should now be only mentioned in books of yester years.

  40. January 6, 2014 14:52

    FGM, where it occurs, is abuse. Full stop. Nobody deserves to be abused for any reason no matter how worthy some people or groups within society feel their cause is. However, the FGM debate is one sided. Figures are branded without evidence and the communities concerned feel that they are been vilified. As our Forum members have attended meetings all over the UK and individually spoke to the Somali community in Bristol, the overwhelming feeling among the most socially excluded and marginalised in society like the Somalis is that they are in the dock. This is a concern that is always raised: That the argument is always about them and not for them.

    The Somali community loves its daughters. They will protect them regardless and where FGM occurs, most consulted by the Forum agree it is about the individual families more than religion or culture because they have been misinformed. The Somali Forum does neither condone nor support FGM and Somali parents love their daughters more than the government and any social worker do. This ‘them and us’ feeling is prevalent and strengthening because of not acknowledging community efforts and engagement.

    The Somali community which is law abiding, hard-working and desperately striving to integrate into British life feels that the FGM issue is been used to label them unfairly as supporters of the hideous act. FGM needs to be tackled effectively and collectively and not made into an issue with a particular community or group, nor to side-line community efforts.
    The Somali community in Bristol and elsewhere, alongside partners and supporters, are working tirelessly to educate, raise awareness and confront the issue of FGM within the community. The Somali Forum encourages dialogue and action within the community; we are closely working with public health and the NHS to tackle the issues. More importantly, we carry out community cohesion work to tackle the ‘us and them’ idealogy. For FGM to be tackled effectively there needs to be meaningful community engagement with those concerned and most at risk as well as evidence to inform debate and policies. Without this, the FGM issue carries the risk of morphing into a divisive and potentially racial matter which alienates rather than unites the very groups needed to tackle it successfully.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 7, 2014 17:30

      Muna Abdi

      It’s heartening to read that “the Somali community” is active in combatting FGM. But, with all due respects, no community is homogeneous. I speak as a British Jew. I know what a struggle it is for those of us who abhor what the Israeli govt is doing to the Palestinians to make our voices heard.

      I can assure you that many bien pensant British Jews are in denial about Israel’s actions.

      From that I venture to extrapolate that British Somalis are divided on FGM. Those who oppose it need to make their actions as high-profile as poss., to deflect the racialisation of this issue.

  41. Carolyn Simpson permalink
    January 6, 2014 15:08

    Surely a combination of both prosecution and education is possible. We cannot continue to pretend that this is not happening here as well as in other countries – there is good practice available both within and without the EU that can be built upon. Also, we must work as a society to raise awareness, not only amongst girls and women but boys and men – who would surely be horrified to hear/learn that this crime is being done ‘in their name’. And let us not forget that it IS a crime. I believe that health workers and teachers can play a crucial role in eradicating this practice pnce and for all worldwide – but the main point, surely, is that we speak out against FGM wherever and whenever we can.

  42. January 6, 2014 19:07

    Although I think education and positive engagement with the communities in which FGM is prevalent are likely to have the greatest impact I would like to add this comment on the police response.

    FGM is horrific child abuse but the police approach has been to treat this as a niche crime and it is therefore dealt with outside the normal child protection processes. This is a completely inadequate response. To put it in context the Azure project team in the Metropolitan Police is dealing with an estimated 6,000 children at risk spread across diverse populations throughout the capital each year.

    There is no way that such an approach can ever make a significant impact upon bringing the perpetrators of this abuse to justice and the fact that the Azure team have not secured a single conviction in 4 years bears this out. To tackle such a widespread and difficult issue requires FGM to be an integral part of front line policing and multi-agency working. The police need to educate their front line police officers and in particular their community engagement teams if they are ever going to make a significant impact on the current levels of offending.

    FGM is not a niche problem, it is widespread child abuse problem that requires all community child protection agencies to work together. Unless the leadership of the police recognise this they will never meet their obligation to protect these children.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 7, 2014 17:11

      Alex Buzzard

      Totally agree. t a niche crime at all, and, as I’ve said before, was surely illegal even before the 1985 act (if committed in the UK). I would have thought that, within living memory, a parent who sawed their daughter’s genitals off would be liable for prosecution.

  43. Layla Ismail permalink
    January 6, 2014 20:01

    I think we need to understand what FGM means to those who practice it. I have read the above comments and the vibe I’m getting is that some of you seem to believe that you are the only ones who are campaigning against this harmful practice. May I remind you that this movement against FGM started in Africa where some activists actually lost their lives as a result of their brave and courageous actions in attempting to educate their own communities?

    As a result of education in Africa the practice is in decline. For instance, in Somalia, particularly in Somaliland and Puntland, they are educating girls in primary schools about FGM.

    In legal terms, any form of FGM practice is illegal in the Federal State of Somalia. That is clearly stated in the national constitution since 2012, the highest legal institution of the state. You can’t go any further than that. Practically, it’s still as difficult to enforce there as it is in the UK. There is also a vigorous campaign against FGM through Somali TV channels based both in the UK and Somalia which are watched by millions of the Somali diaspora.

    Through my work and my experience of Somali women who were born and grew up in Somalia, I believe it is vital to work with people who are affected by FGM, particularly parents, and empower women and girls about their sexual health and reproductive rights.

    Elders play a key role in community engagement, in reality we are not dealing with Western families. African communities have a very strong cultural identity; they respect their elders and we need to use that to our advantage by educating them about the FGM legislation in the UK and the harmful practice. In this way we can pick their minds as to why this practice is so important to them. Having carried out many FGM awareness workshops in Bristol, I have found out that some participants felt like their culture is under attack. By calling them child abusers while clearly they think they are doing what is best for their child is counterproductive. In my opinion, it is good to acknowledge their culture but still challenge their beliefs of FGM, by having a frank discussion on who is actually benefitting from this practice, since there seems to be some confusion in this particular area.

    I feel that African affected communities are victims of FGM, not just the girls but also the men and women; that is exactly why education is so important in the campaign to eradicate FGM. I don’t believe that by working with young people or women/men in isolation can produce the desired results. We want to raise a healthy generation with loving and caring families, by criminalising their parents we will only succeed in breaking a family apart, and victimising twice innocent children.

    Having said that, everyone in the UK, in my opinion, must obey the law and where FGM is carried out adults must be accountable but equally frontline professionals have to be accountable if they do not report an instance where they are aware that a girl has been subjected to this harmful practice. Training frontline professionals must be mandatory, FGM should also be in the school curriculum in order to educate the next generation.

    In fairness, education and legislation are parallel to each other; at the moment, I feel as though we are panicking and we’re seeking a quick fix of this problem by having a prosecution. What we are forgetting is that the day to day FGM campaign that is happening in the UK, particularly Bristol, where FGM affected communities, both men, women and children/young people and professionals are coming together and discussing ways of ending FGM.

    • Vera Lustig permalink
      January 7, 2014 17:13

      Layla Ismael

      I agree that education and prosecution should go hand in hand.

      As for prosecution, I wouldn’t describe it as a “quick fix”, but as justice.

  44. January 7, 2014 11:20

    I think that to combat FGM in the UK, which is a melting pot with so many cultural differences, will be a hard matter. To avoid prosecution, many will be tempted to do this harmful practice elsewhere in another country where it is tolerated and come back to the UK when this is completed.
    That’s why I suggest what follows:
    1.Deny visas to the UK to parents with daughters victims of FGM,
    2.A girl taken abroad for FGM will not be allowed reentry to the UK.


    • January 7, 2014 20:10

      So how do you find out who the vicim is Yacoub ?

      As the family are usually the perpetrators they are hardly going to ‘own up are they, or maybe you think a physical examination should be performed on all females applying for Visas

  45. Vera Lustig permalink
    January 7, 2014 17:20

    I think we should learn from where the French have got it wrong, as well as from their successes.

    The 2012 trial of the Guinean couple charged with mutilating their daughters is educational. Doctors found, when performing an emergency appendectomy on the eldest girl that she’d been excised. So the police interviewed the parents, who were then placed under Controle Judiciaire, i.e. not brought to court.

    Then, when a younger daughter was rushed into hospital bleeding from a botched excision, there was a trial. So the Controle Judiciare hadn’t worked. So let’s not delude ourselves that a judicial slap on the wrist will necessarily deter parents from who have excised one girl from doing the same to her younger sisters.

  46. Vera Lustig permalink
    January 7, 2014 17:35

    One final suggestion: train potential foster families (ideally Somali – yes, I know I’m implying that it is the Somali diaspora in the UK who are mainly responsible, but we’d squander resources if we didn’t “profile”) to take in girls removed from their families because they are in danger of being cut, or have already undergone FGM.

    • January 8, 2014 17:26

      Reply to Vera Lustig

      This sort of ‘prevention’ is truly sad, too many people here are talking ‘re-active’ not ‘pro- actively. Talk of removing children from their parents is every bit as traumatic as cutting & is not thinking of the child’s emotional well being !

      Lecturers & teachers are far too late to ‘prevent’ cutting…which can be done before schooling age. You must get to the root of this problem,the culture,the myths & the demands to cure FGM.
      Only when people stop looking at it through Western eyes & think about ‘why’ FGM is done can you begin to see a solution.

      See Martha’s comment.

    • January 8, 2014 19:30

      Hi Katie, I think Vera makes it clear in another post here that she doesn’t see this as ‘either / or’.

      Do you have any studies you can point us to please, re the relative trauma of being cut, or being in care to avoid that? And, if I may ask, what role do you see for the rule of (UK) law re FGM?

      I know only too well that these are very complex issues, so thank you, Katie, Vera and everyone, for engaging in these tricky debates.

    • January 8, 2014 20:01

      Hello Hilary.

      No I have no ‘study’ on FGM, like most I have been watching & reading about it for too long & disappointed there have been no prosecutions.
      Whilst of course there has to be a legal route once a perpetrator has been exposed & also a way for potential victims to report their fears.

      My concern is that the law will do nothing for the ‘victim’ other than rip her family apart & all to late, after the crime has been committed.
      So in real terms she gets damaged twice,once physically & then emotionally.
      This is not the answer or a solution.

      If an older female chooses to report her parents/aunts/granny that is entirely right,but we must protect the young children emotionally & physically.
      Inflicting regular physical inspections of their genitals is grotesque & does not ‘prevent’ cutting !
      Hence I keep saying education of those who demand a girl be cut is the only way to ‘phase’ this barbarity out.

      Why not get those with young families to compulsory meetings to explain & warn them of consequences if they cut/damage their daughters ?
      Get the law passed, then get this out in the open with the communities who are likely to cut.
      Education is compulsory this is education for grown ups & long overdue.

    • January 8, 2014 21:36

      Correction to Katie – no need to make a law which is already made.

      Warning young families of consequences is a very good idea! But for these warnings to be effective the consequences need to be there.

      And taking children into custody is a way to ensure that (1) younger siblings are not cut, (2) the children are removed from the indoctrinating influence that will push them to cut their own children, and (3) psychological support and quote possibly reconstructive surgery is made available to the victim. Not only the victim but ALL CHILDREN IN THE FAMILY must be removed – just as if one of the parents was sexually abusing a child in a “typical” way. FGM is a form of sexual abuse (and not the only culturally-mandated sexual abuse).

      Taking of children is also a consequence to warn about. A few abusive so-called families get torn up, many more fear to cut. And yes, fear must be present alongside education. We educate people not to murder, we educate people not to steal, but we also jail murderers and thieves so people who did not take the education well enough are held back by fear.

  47. garlandofbooks permalink
    January 7, 2014 21:35

    Information is the key, here; information and direct action. While we must write letters and put pressure on the government to eradicate FGM through policy, we must also set up workshops in schools, colleges, and universities to discuss the subject and warn of the dangers. Teachers and lecturers must also be given their own lessons and training in how to broach the subject with students, and discuss it in an age-appropriate way, as the government will inevitably demand when schools are mentioned. Alongside these workshops, support groups should be offered for those who are in some way, whether directly or indirectly, affected by FGM.

    Just as the subject of domestic violence is now becoming more widely discussed, FGM must be a topic that is brought to the fore in people’s minds and vocabulary. In order to draw attention to FGM in the press, it is important that marches and demonstrations are set up all over the country, so that it is given proper media coverage, and those who would perhaps never even consider reading an article on the subject will be able to gain information through televised news.

    Charities and organisations who work with women’s and children’s health, both mental and physical, must be approached to play a role in this, and made aware that FGM is not rare, and not something that happens only in certain parts of the world. All of those with an interest in human rights must work together to ensure that FGM is no longer a topic that is avoided or brushed under the carpet, and share one goal of eradicating it from society.

  48. January 7, 2014 22:04

    Hi Hilary,
    As many others have done in this thread, I cannot stress enough the importance of education. We need to educate our young people about FGM and provide adequate training for frontline workers. We need to educate young people on gender based violence. Young girls are at risk of FGM and many different forms of violence simply because of their gender. We need to educate future generations on issues like gender inequality, harmful cultural traditions, rape culture and toxic masculinity. In order for us to do this properly, PSHE needs to be made statutory so young people can discuss these important issues with trained professionals in a safe and non-judgemental environment. In addition, education and healthcare professionals need training – it beggars belief that there are still Doctors and Teachers who do not know what FGM is.
    It was very disappointing that the Education Select Committee on 12th December 2013 completely ignored the dozens of tweets asking Gove about his plans for FGM safeguarding and gender equality education. Why were our tweets completely ignored by the Department of Education? Indeed, why is the department of education completely ignoring this issue when it is in their hands to create systemic and lasting change?
    I truly believe that only with education for both young people and frontline professionals can we eradicate FGM in a generation.
    Kind regards,

  49. January 7, 2014 22:35

    A comment kindly sent to me from ‘Wendy’ (to whom thanks):

    1. You need the most prominent female who has suffered the procedure alongside a male, of the appropriate nationality, who is prepared to stand against the horror. This would also need a narrator’s voice which needs to be instantly obvious. Going to be a very hard advert to format because of what you can’t show.

    2. I picked up a white metal “ribbon” yesterday. They are very popular and I’m sure there must be some colours left. This white one is “end male violence to women”.

    3. You need a piece of music running through any programmes on the subject so every time anyone hears it they will associate it with your campaign.

    Best of luck!

  50. January 8, 2014 13:38

    Although we don’t have this issue in Palestine, but I would like to share you my comments on FMG since we must stop it because it’s life threatening to females so we must integrate men in the SRH&R issues through giving them awareness sessions, teaching them about rights especially women rights.
    Advocate for this issue through implementing campaigns agianst FMG
    aware the community about this dangerous issue.
    Go to religious leaders and let them speake about this dangerous issue to aware people through Friday’s speech.

  51. Inas Salem permalink
    January 8, 2014 15:13

    I think its important to engage influential characters and personalities in the community that able to work together to change this phenomena:
    1- Religious leaders
    2- Social providers (social workers & Health Educators) can give awareness sessions especially to the newly married couples about the negative and dangerous results
    3- Media has a great role- through producing short films- radio spots about the non-human phenomena.
    4- The Youth Can make campaigns regard this issue or campaigns to support the affected women and girls.
    5- The Governments in coordination with lawyers should put strict laws regard this issue.

  52. January 8, 2014 21:41

    Just wanted to note Katie’s idea regarding mandatory informing of families seems to be a very good one, and perhaps maternity hospitals and licensed midwives could be involved on a mandatory basis?

    But I notice a problem here. Having mandatory information for *everyone* would shock innocent vulnerable mothers who never heard of FGM before, but profiling of particular cultures could be against the law. “All non-nationals” would have the same problem as “anyone” – just imagine a Romanian or Mexican mother learning of this horrible practice right after delivering a daughter!

  53. January 10, 2014 09:05

    In Europe more awareness is needed. Currently too few people know what FGM is and how it is practiced, not to mention the effects it has on the women and girls.

    Beryl Magoko – a victim herself – made the film “The Cut” which was shown at many film festivals and won seven awards so far. It helps to understand why this old tradition is so deeply rooted. We think: Only if you understands this you can take useful action.

    Beryl Magoko will come back to Europe and again tour with her film ( ) to create more awareness and discuss the topic and also how Europeans can help to overcome this human right violation. If groups and organisations are interested to screen the film, we would also like to come to the UK.
    Contact: film.thecut (at) gmail (dot) com

  54. January 13, 2014 21:12

    Education, outreach, information etc are all well and good but will never in and of themselves put an end to FGM. The practice cannot be uncovered unless some form of mandatory universal pelvic examination is put into place.
    Annual examinations during the most vulnerable years and perhaps every 2 or 3 years thereafter, performed by family doctors or GYN’s and certified via computer to the proper authorities for indicated follow up/prosecution are what is lacking.
    Because some doctors may try to falsify these status reports the state needs to do an semiannual random sample of these exams administered by its own doctors. Docs caught falsifying a report(s) would face loss of license to practice. These exams stop for individual girls when they reach the age of majority.
    There just isn’t any other way to accurately know what compliance actually is. As the results come in and the prosecutions start, the convictions obtained will deter many parents from the course of mutilation they had in mind. This is when the outreach/education should be intensified to the maximum. In a generation or less FGM could be a thing of the past. But only if the will to resolve this truly evil scourge can be summoned.

  55. James Teezle permalink
    February 11, 2014 13:56

    This is not an area where ‘cultural sensitivity’ is appropriate. It should be made very clear that either (1) carrying out FGM or (2) permitting it to be carried out (whether inside or outside the UK) on any child of which the accused has control or guardianship is child abuse of a serious nature.
    Also why on earth would any man want to make love to a woman who has suffered FGM? Would she not be as un-responsive as a concrete block?

  56. Sylvia Joyce permalink
    February 15, 2014 11:45

    My suggestions for stopping this abomination in the UK are:

    (1)Ensure that there are well publicised medical checks for girls in all UK primary and secondary schools every year. In fact all girls could just be asked if they have had an “operation” on their genitals. If they have, prosecutions should follow. No exceptions, no excuses. As this is a criminal offence – torture of little girls – presumably deportation would follow imprisonment.

    (2) Invent a “coming of age” ceremony or ritual for girls in this country which takes the place of FGM here and, hopefully, everywhere else.

    (3) Make sure there is a lot of literature about this topic in all relevant languages – particularly on visa application forms filled in from abroad; given to immigrants on entry; and handed out to parents in schools; and given out by Councils when allocating housing. Refugees should be given appropriate literature on entry too.

    (4) I should also like to see a description circulated in literature of what the equivalent mutilation would be in a boy – ie three-quarters of the penis cut off, and the skin of the stump pulled over and sewn up leaving a small hole for semen and urine. All without anaesthetic. Result no possibility of orgasm. Of course, it is actually worse than this in girls because of the inability to keep clean there are urinary tract infections and obstetric complications.

    (5) Provide education to the young men of relevant communities using this description and ask them to ensure that their future wives are not “cut”.

    (6) Thank you to the wonderful, brave, young women who are survivors of FGM who are at last making this horrendous topic something we can actually talk about so there is more hope of getting it stopped.

  57. Nazrin Wilkinson permalink
    May 9, 2014 22:33

    I am a freelance journalist and have written about forced marriage in the UK and am particularly interested in FGM worldwide but also in the UK. My research so far has found that charities that work to support and highlight FGM here are constantly bombarded from journalists for case-studies that they can use to run campaigns or to highlight this subject in their media. This is a good thing but there are complex issues involved in helping both victims of fgm and also working with practising communities for all involved and handing out sensitive case studies is difficult on so many levels. As one charity I am working with pointed out lately, the media might be driving the people who practise fgm on their children even more underground as the debate gathers pace in the world and also unwittingly prevent victims or potential victims from reporting the abuse because they may be headlined/showcased.

    Another thing too, I was told by the same charity that news about fgm is being recycled again and again and that there is far more news out there that media don’t want to have but it is not sensational enough but yet, is very important in the overall development of tackling fgm. I don’t know what the answer is but I am working on building long term relationships with different charities and understanding their research. My experience of talking with different ethnic women from fgm practising communities has opened my eyes into their world and how they worry about being represented in the media as victims or perpetrators of something terrible…it is something I hear again and again. On the whole, most women I have come across with fgm do not want to be revealed. Some want to tell their stories as long as they are hidden from the glare of universal media. FGM has to be stopped and it is hugely serious issue that media has a right to discuss and highlight. But how do the media work to support the victims and tell their stories to educate and highlight this issue, so that it is NOT yet another concern for the women they want to help in the first place? I for one am taking my time to listen to stories and build relationships with people and take care to understand the varying complexities of the subject. I’m not an fgm expert but I do care about how I disseminate my research to help women. What do others think?

    • May 10, 2014 14:15

      In my (quite wide) experience, Nazrin, you are by no means alone. This is a general concern shared by pretty well all the professional journalists I know who, whatever their publication/s, are doing their best to acknowledge and respect the situation in which women with FGM find themselves.

      More concerning perhaps is the number is media students who want to cover this topic directly, but not always with a great deal of preparedness and understanding of this same situation.

      My advice to anyone starting to think about journalistic exploration of FGM is to study #NoFGM Daily News carefully for quite a while, and pick up something of the complexity of the contexts and meanings from that well before they try to go out in the ‘field’ to explore more overtly.

      But there is one thing I would pick up on more explicitly in what you claim above:

      I don’t buy the argument that public disclosure will drive the activity ‘underground’. Why do community groups claim this? On what evidence? It’s underground already – everyone knows it’s illegal in most countries. Media exposure will in the longer-run help to prevent FGM from actually happening, especially if it includes reportage of significant punishment tariffs for people caught who are involved.

      I sometimes suspect that community groups fighting FGM are perhaps at some level more concerned, not that reporting will drive FGM (more) underground, but that reporting it will produce an unpleasant backlash against these communities…. as has already happened to a degree re forced marriage on occasion. That would indeed be very counter-productive, and is something, additional to required respect for individuals with FGM, that all media people need to be very mindful of and careful to avoid.

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