Mandatory reporting of all cases of female genital mutilation identified in the UK has now been in place for about 18months and useful data are emerging. However, there has still not been a single successful prosecution in the UK, although several cases are currently under police investigation. A major barrier to prosecution is the understandable unwillingness of girls to give evidence in court against family members.
In the last 12 months, 8,656 cases were reported of which 5,702 were new referrals to the specialised clinics that treat and care for these women and girl survivors. 106 cases were below the age of 18years. These are people living in the UK who have previously suffered FGM either in their home country or since arrival the UK.
Many cases are being reported through specialist health workers and GPs and very few through schools and nurseries, even though the evidence points to the mutilation being increasingly carried out on young children below the age of 10years and even as young as 3 or 4years old. A significant number of cases of FGM are also occurring in young teenage girls.
Approximately half the total UK cases are reported in London, particularly in the boroughs of Brent, Southwark and Ealing and most women and girls have come from East African countries including Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. But there are also cases from several other African countries and from Asia and Malaysia. The practice is not confined to one religious group, but is widespread in countries where women have few if any rights, and where early and forced marriage is common.
It is evident that FGM is being carried out in the UK, additionally that many families who originated from countries where this practice is widespread are taking their daughters abroad during school holidays for FGM to be performed.
Notably, the increasing use of FGM Protection Orders which offer a legal means of protecting potential victims under the age of 18years before FGM occurs. They are issued by the courts and contain specific conditions to protect individuals at risk; they include such things as passport surrender to prevent someone being taken abroad for FGM. Further information and application forms are available at justice.gov.uk including information in several relevant languages. Encouragingly, there have been 97 applications for FGMPOs in the last year.
Specialists working in the field report that in most cases families are completely ignorant of UK law on FGM and have no idea that what they are doing is illegal and carries a possible 14 year jail sentence. It’s clear that better public awareness is needed if girls are to be protected, and specific education of high-risk groups should be put in place, possibly as soon as they arrive in the UK.