November 3, 2013
Thousands of girls in danger of genital mutilation are being failed by the health and justice systems, a coalition of health professionals has warned in a report that recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in the UK. Female genital mutilation (FGM) should be treated the same as any other kind of child abuse and evidence of it must be reported to the police, according to the report. Janet Fyle, a policy adviser of the Royal College of Midwives and one of the report’s authors, said that just as it was inconceivable that a health worker would not report evidence of child abuse to the police, it should be equally important to report evidence of FGM.
According to the report more than 66,000 women in England and Wales have undergone FGM and more than 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of it. Despite its regular occurrence, FGM has not resulted in a prosecution in Britain, whereas in France there have been about 100.
FGM is carried out in Africa and the Middle East by Muslims and non-Muslims. It predates Islam and is not called for in the Qur’an although it mostly occurs in countries that became Islamic. In countries such as Somalia and Egypt more than 90% of women have undergone some kind of FGM but it is also common in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali and Sierra Leone. Although FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, migrants from countries where FGM is common have continued the practice here or by taking girls to their home countries for it to be performed. Since 2003, Britons can be prosecuted for acts of FGM abroad.
The report recommends that health workers identify girls at risk and treat them as if they were at risk of child abuse. Girls at risk are defined as girls born to a woman who has undergone FGM or a child who lives closely with someone who has. The report clearly emphasises the importance of an individual’s safety over the respect for religious and racial sensibilities, a point welcomed by Shaista Gohir, the chairwoman of the Muslim Women’s Network.
Sarian Karim, a 36-year-old community worker from Peckham, south London, who suffered FGM as an 11-year-old in Sierra Leone, welcomed the report. “FGM is a normal thing for us. We don’t know it is against the law, but I know that it damages girls and leaves them scarred for life – mentally and physically. “It is very important that everyone knows that FGM is illegal. We suffer from a lot of complications [because of the procedure]. “We want those people who work in schools to have guidelines and be able to inform, prepare and protect children.”