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I would like to start by belatedly wishing everybody a happy International Women’s Day. I am sure Members across the House took part in events in their constituencies. It is an honour to be here on the Labour Benches discussing a subject of the utmost importance with Members from across the House. It is worth remembering that while International Women’s Day on Friday saw so many fantastic events celebrating women and young girls from across the globe, there were children being violently abused not just in far flung lands that we have never visited, but right here in the UK. That is why we are all here tonight.
Women and girls face unimaginable pain through the abhorrent crime of female genital mutilation. They also face a lifetime of medical problems as a result. And those are the lucky ones: the ones who do not die from the procedure. As Governments across the world begin to crack down on this horrific crime, there are reports that younger and younger girls are being targeted—girls as young as three. Despite more women coming forward to recount the harrowing ordeals they have experienced, to date there has been only one successful prosecution in this country. As Members have so eloquently articulated tonight, if this were happening to young boys or if this were little girls’ toes or fingers being cut off, we would be doing something.
I stand here with colleagues from across the House tonight and say that this is not done in the name of any religion—certainly not any religion I know—and nor is it acceptable cultural practice in any culture that I know. It must be stamped out and we must take a lead. Together, we must say, as we are doing, that we will not accept it. We must say that the people who are found guilty of committing this barbaric act, and those who know about it, should pay, and pay heavily. It is clear that more needs to be done to prosecute perpetrators far more effectively. That includes ensuring that Members do not block Bills that seek to stamp out this crime and provide victims with justice. Just as we look to support teachers and medical professionals to flag any concerns that a child may be being abused, the Government should provide frontline services with the resources they need to detect the tell-tale signs of FGM and to stamp it out.
I have two young daughters, aged four and five. When I think about them going to school in the morning and standing in line with their friends waiting to go into their classroom, it breaks my heart to think that in our children’s classrooms there are children who are being taken and forcibly mutilated: mutilated without any say in what happens to their bodies; and mutilated without any consequences for the perpetrators of this abhorrent crime. People who commit such barbaric acts need to know that tonight we are saying, “We are watching you and you will be punished.” We need to tackle this at its core and show that people will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
All women and girls need to be valued equally. I hope that by next International Women’s Day, the young girls and women who have been victims of this brutal and horrible crime will have found justice.