Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:54 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire 8:54 pm, 11th March 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on bringing forward this addition to the Children Act. I remind him that, although he has been working with Nimco Ali, who is a fantastic campaigner, and Jaha, who has had fantastic success in Gambia, this all started with Jane Ellison, a former Member of Parliament for Battersea, when she formed the all-party group on female genital mutilation. She did some amazing work to bring this issue to people’s attention and she was devastated that there was no prosecution during her time here.

We have just had a prosecution, but it is hard for young people to testify, sometimes against family members, or, if not family members, against people who are friends of the family. It is really difficult for relatively young girls to go through with the prosecution. Although we have had only one prosecution—and it is incredibly important that we have had one—I can understand why we have not had more, but now that we have had that prosecution, I would like to see people feeling less frightened to come forward.

I also believe that teachers need more training to recognise the signs of when girls are going to be taken abroad. I know that it does not happen all the time and that a lot happens here, but some are taken abroad, just as they are for early marriage and forced marriage. Teachers need to be trained to recognise the symptoms of what is happening. Doctors and nurses also need additional training to make them report what they see. Many doctors in the past have seen this but have never done anything about it to protect people, because they believed that it was not their job to do so and that they should let sleeping dogs lie. That really should not be the case, because what is happening to young girls is brutal. There is the risk of bleeding to death. There is a huge risk of infection. Somebody earlier likened this to abortion in the 1950s. It is no better than the knitting needle and the gin, because there is no protection for these girls and absolutely no pain relief for them either. The perpetrators need to realise that we are serious about catching them and stopping FGM in this country.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, who is sitting on the Front Bench. She has put an enormous amount of work and funding behind trying to stop FGM in other countries around the world. I commend her for her work because it is really important that it is not just us who are doing this; we have to help other countries to stamp it out as well. As was said earlier, we have seen the success in Gambia, which is incredibly important to this campaign. It can be stamped out once we get over the barrier that it is not cultural and not religious—it is just sex abuse for these young girls. We must get that over, and I commend the Secretary of State for the work she has done and the huge amount of resources she has put into this issue.

I also commend Sarah Champion, who made a very passionate speech, a lot of which I was going to say but I cannot, because she has already said it. What has been really good about this debate is that it has united both sides of the House. We work better when we work together. There are things that divide us, but on issues such as this, we can all work together, just as we can on raising the age of marriage and forced marriage.