Female Genital Mutilation/Early Forced Marriage

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 11:30 am, 18th March 2015

What recent progress her Department has made on its policies and programmes to tackle female genital mutilation and early forced marriage.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Last year’s girl summit achieved unprecedented international commitments to end both practices. We are now tracking to ensure that those commitments and deliverables are delivered, and supporting national efforts in more than 25 countries. The UK is the largest donor on female genital mutilation and we are implementing major new programmes to end child and forced marriage.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Violence against women is always unacceptable, but female genital mutilation is child abuse and illegal. In the UK, there is increasing awareness of this repugnant practice as a result of the work of agencies such as the Kaiza project in my constituency. What efforts are the Government making to improve international awareness of efforts to combat FGM and to bring the perpetrators to justice in courts across the world?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I commend the work of the Kaiza project in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It does absolutely vital work locally. Internationally, we are working closely with national Governments in the affected countries to support the development and implementation of legislation and policy to end FGM. When a case reaches prosecution, it means that there has been a failure to prevent a girl from being cut, so our programme is focusing particularly on prevention.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

As the Minister knows, I have a particular interest in this subject, as I changed and tightened up the law in 2003. The Easter holidays are coming up, and many young girls will be taken out of the UK to their countries of origin in the school holidays to have FGM practised on them. What are we doing across Departments to protect those girls from that awful fate?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

There are two things. First, there is improved guidance from the Department for Education and, secondly, the right hon. Lady will know that at the girl summit last year we broadened the ability to prosecute people who are taking girls abroad to be cut.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I commend the Secretary of State, her Department and her Ministers for their campaigning work on this issue on behalf of women and girls. May I ask her not to hold back in countries such as Sierra Leone, where secret societies perpetrate female genital mutilation? The girls do not even know what is happening to them and they do not discuss it. Will she work with campaigners in that country to ensure that the matter is addressed?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

My right hon. Friend is right to address that point. In spite of the challenges that Sierra Leone faces with Ebola, FGM has, ironically, stopped. This is because it was one of the main ways in which the disease could spread. The key now is to prevent those practices from coming back, and I am already having discussions on that.

Given that my right hon. Friend is leaving the House soon, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the work that he has done as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development since 2005. The Committee has published more than 90 reports in that time. On a personal level, I have very much valued his objectivity and constructive working with our Department.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Could the Secretary of State go further and make it a condition of aid that those countries eliminate these appalling practices?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

We have been careful to work with the momentum in many countries in Africa. One of our biggest challenges is that tackling female genital mutilation can be seen as some kind of western agenda. It is right that we should press those countries and work with them, but we should also be prepared to work with community groups at a grass-roots level if we cannot get the political will behind us. But the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that, in the end, political will is needed if we are going to make significant progress.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

Communication on FGM and forced marriage is essential at home and abroad. In just one of my local hospitals, 50 cases of FGM were discovered last year when the women happened to go in to give birth there. Will the Secretary of State work with the Education Secretary to ensure that we are getting that communication out to the next generation, internationally and at home?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The most powerful thing about the girl summit last year was the young people themselves, many from our country, saying that they wanted a different future. That is why the work that we do domestically in this country is so important. Getting the girls themselves to say no is one of the best ways of eradicating FGM.