My Lords, this Bill seeks to make a one-line amendment to the Children Act 1989, but it would considerably extend protection to young girls at greatest risk of genital mutilation, and I can think only that its current omission is simply an oversight. I will begin and end with one startling fact. If a child is at risk of forced marriage or violence from, say, a habitually drunk father, the family court has all the full protective powers a court can offer, up to and including making an interim care order. But if a child is at serious risk of having her genitals mutilated, it does not. The powers fall far short, and all that can be done is to make an FGM protection order and hope for the best. How can that be right or logical? I will try to explain the difference between the two and will give some background to the genesis of the Bill.
When I joined your Lordships’ House in 2013, I came with music and music education as my main calling cards. But then I attended a debate on FGM, initiated by the late and much missed Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, and I was stunned and appalled by what I heard. I simply could not believe that in our country, girls were being subjected to a barbaric procedure that often leads to infertility, sepsis, pain and severe curtailment of sexual pleasure, performed all too often with dirty razor blades and in far from sterile conditions.
This custom has no basis in religion—in the Koran, for example—and as countless distinguished medical experts have told your Lordships’ House in previous debates, it cannot be justified for medical reasons: in fact, quite the reverse. So when Baroness Rendell died in 2015, and on hearing that many thousands of girls were considered at risk in this country—the figure of 60,000 was mentioned in one debate—I decided to take up the gauntlet and have asked Questions and tabled debates ever since, and will continue to do so.
Despite it being illegal since 1985—thanks again to Lady Rendell—there has not been a single successful prosecution of FGM in this country. That is regrettable, because it would certainly send a signal. However, I do not unduly castigate the Government for that—it is an extremely sensitive, delicate, cross-cultural problem—and I have come to agree with them that education is the most important resource in our armoury. We simply have to change the attitude to FGM that has been passed down the generations, largely by grandmother to mother to granddaughter, but in the alleged interests of men, who it is thought will welcome only girls who have not been sexually active. Therefore, FGM is designed to create a physical barrier to normal sexual activity but also a psychological one, in that it is supposed to lessen desire and lustful thoughts. Just imagine the long-term consequences of this and all the physical things I have mentioned for a woman.
Therefore, I welcome the decision that made mandatory the reporting of FGM in the National Health Service. The figures are not reassuring, and at this stage I thank the Library for providing the latest figures, as requested. In 2015-16, there were 9,223 reports, of which 6,080 were newly recorded. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 9,179 reports were recorded, of which 5,391 were newly recorded cases. Between January and March of this year, 2,320 attendances were already reported, of which 1,030 were newly recorded cases affecting women or girls. These shocking figure reveal just why we and the courts desperately need to have every form of protection available.
Having secured attention for this problem in your Lordships’ House, I was contacted by a barrister, Mr David Maddison, who from great experience—18 years of working in family law and with the police in Manchester—wrote to me explaining that a simple change in the law would enormously help the protection of the young girls most at risk of FGM. Based on his notes to me—this is our case—the power to make female genital mutilation protection orders is in Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. This is in effect a stand-alone statutory code.
Lots of other remedies in the family courts also exist as stand-alone codes—for example, non-molestation orders are made under the Family Law Act 1996. Courts also have the power under the Children Act 1989 to make interim care orders when they are so concerned about a child’s welfare that the court wants a local authority to intervene and share parental responsibility. This is a very useful way for judges to alert local authorities to children who might have slipped beneath their radar. Crucially, however, the Children Act is not a stand-alone code in the sense that it allows a court to make interim care orders in any family proceedings.
Section 8(4) defines what is meant by family proceedings by listing various statutes. The effect of this section is that it allows a judge to reach across from one seemingly stand-alone code and use the powers of the Children Act 1989 to protect children by granting an interim care order. FGM is not listed as a family proceeding. However, the Family Law Act 1996, for example, is listed, so if a person were to apply for a non-molestation order under that Act, it would be open to a judge also to make an interim care order if the relevant test was satisfied. Section 8(4) is what allows the Children Act to open its protective umbrella, if you like, and offer shelter to many other children who might seek help under the Family Law Act or any of the other statutes listed in it. So one might well ask: could a non-molestation order cover FGM? In theory, yes, but it would involve hammering an oval peg through a round hole. It is not as workable and effective as including FGM as a family proceeding would be.
FGM protection orders and forced marriage protection orders were developed because it was realised that the courts were being forced to strain the limits of their available powers to provide appropriate protection. As a consequence, it was recognised that the courts needed better, bespoke tools for these problems. One particular difference between a non-molestation order and an FGM protection order is that a non-molestation order is applied for by the person seeking protection, and they can obtain protection only against “associated persons”. That has a lengthy definition but for these purposes is best understood as a very broad but not limitless pool of people whom that person may need protection from.
In contrast, FGM protection orders and forced marriage protection orders can be brought by the child or a relevant third party. That can include local authorities and police forces. This is important, because children might not voice their concerns or they might want it to look as though the decision has been taken out of their hands so that there are no reprisals from their family. Neither a local authority nor a police force can apply for a non-molestation order on behalf of someone. So, yes, you could use a non-molestation order to protect a child but it would generally involve the parent applying for it for their own and the child’s benefit. Where this tool is wanting, then, is in the ability of local authorities and police forces to act on their information and take protection steps. As I said, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is not included in the list of statutes at Section 8(4), so does not constitute family proceedings, and thus it is not open to a judge to make an interim care order if they think it appropriate. This is surely denying judges a very useful and important tool to protect children—hence the amendment that we seek to make to the Children Act.
The test for an interim care order is that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm. If a child is considered to be at risk of genital mutilation, it is not very likely that there will be reasonable grounds to believe that they are at risk of suffering significant harm? Can anyone argue with that? Therefore, we suspect that the Female Genital Mutilation Act is not listed in Section 8(4) more by oversight than by deliberate omission. It is very difficult to see an argument against including it. It will not lead to a flood of care orders. It is rare for judges to make interim care orders using their powers under Section 8(4)—Mr Maddison says that he has probably seen them less than a dozen times in his 18-year career—but judges should, and must, still have this tool at their disposal. As FGM becomes more and more visible and people become more and more active in doing something about it, so the change we seek will be more and more necessary.
I am most grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking today, particularly my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on the Labour Benches, who will speak with great legal knowledge. I am also very grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, who arranged for me to meet her and her officials earlier this week. Even though this is a one-line amendment, it inevitably involves complicated legal issues, which others in your Lordships’ House are much better qualified than me to deal with.
One of the great privileges of being a Member of this House is that just sometimes one can hope to make a real difference to people’s lives and, to that end, can also consult truly eminent experts in the field. I have done so, and by them and, as it happens, by leading politicians at the highest level, I have been much encouraged to pursue this Bill.
I end as I began by referring the House quite simply to one fact: the absolute illogicality of the family court being able to effectively protect a child at risk of forced marriage or domestic abuse but not protect one at risk of having her genitals mutilated. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton on promoting this Bill and on opening the debate so cogently. He has championed this most compelling of causes for some years past.
I put my name down to speak in the debate because I thought it might be helpful to add the voice of an erstwhile judge to what might appear to be a somewhat technical, legal objective, which this commendably focused Bill seeks. It will achieve, as has been admirably explained by my noble friend, the addition to the armoury of a judge who is seized of an application to make an FGM protection order under the 2003 Act the power to make an interim care order under the Children Act 1989, and thereby involve the local authority in the child’s future protection. To achieve this desirable aim, it is necessary by this Bill to effect the listing of the FGM Act 2003 itself among the various other statutes which constitute “family proceedings” for the purposes of Section 8(4) of the 1989 Act. Currently, inexplicably, the 2003 Act is omitted from that list. Really, that is all that needs to be said in support of this Bill.
I just wish to add this. The need to combat the scourge of FGM is one that I too have been alive to for some years. Twelve years ago, sitting in your Lordships’ House as a member of the Appellate Committee of this House, under the chairmanship of the late and much missed Lord Bingham of Cornhill, I was party to a decision in two linked asylum cases, reported under the title of Fornah v the Home Secretary, 2007, 1 AC 412. The cases concerned the meaning of the term “a particular social group” within the refugee convention. Put shortly, we held that FGM amounted to persecution under the convention and was an extreme expression of discriminatory treatment based on the institutional inferiority of all women in Sierra Leone, so that all women at risk of it were entitled to political asylum.
In giving the leading judgment in that case the noble Baroness, Lady Hale, now the President of the Supreme Court, which of course succeeded the Appellate Committee of this House, set out the WHO four-category definition of FGM—in fact, she did so in rather more detail than appears in the Library note, helpful though it is. I think it is worth reading into the debate her words at paragraph 92 of the judgment, in which she said that,
“these procedures are irreversible and their effects last a life time. They are usually performed by traditional practitioners using crude instruments and without anaesthetic. Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue. Long term consequences include cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and sexual dysfunction. Infibulation can bring particularly severe consequences, and it may be necessary to cut open the skin to enable intercourse or childbirth to take place. It is likely that the risks of maternal death and stillbirth are greatly increased”.
Finally, I take this opportunity to make plain my growing astonishment and profound disappointment at the fact alluded to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. Despite the continuing prevalence here of this disgusting and plainly criminal practice, there has still not been a single successful prosecution in the UK. Regularly prosecuting those guilty of it is, I am sure, central to the eventual eradication of this vile practice. In the meantime, in its own way, my noble friend’s Bill will, on occasion at least, save some poor child from this ghastly fate. I strongly support the Bill.
My Lords, I have very little to add to what has already been said today. I have come mainly to listen, because I was not aware that care orders could not be made at the same time or that nobody else could bring anything forward. If we can bring this amendment together with everything else, it cannot be anything but the right way. I have no problem with that at all.
I have known about FGM for a very long time. Since we first became aware of it, all of us have been horrified by its effect on women. How is it possible that it is still going on and is so prevalent in some countries? We know that it is only Muslims who practise this, and it has spread across Islamic countries and all over Africa. It happens also in Bangladesh. It is a really bad thing but it is very difficult to stop, because nobody will come forward to say, “This happened to me—please do something about it”. Unless somebody can come forward to say that they have been a victim, it is extremely difficult to bring a case. I hope that, sooner or later, we will get to that point and cases will be brought.
I want to add one point that is not usually mentioned. If a girl has been cut—as they say nowadays—she can claim a higher bride price and her family will get more money. As noble Lords will know, in the Muslim system the man’s family pays for the girl. I feel that that is quite an important factor: if you are very poor, it may make a difference as to whether you get so much money or you get double that. Noble Lords should bear that in mind when they think about FGM.
There is nothing more to be said other than that it is a horrible and horrifying practice.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, on introducing this Bill. It will make not a huge difference, but it will make some difference. As has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, it adds to the armoury of those who hear these cases, and that can only be to the good. In reality, in many of the cases in which FGM protection orders are sought, local authorities are involved. Disclosure usually takes place by a girl telling a friend, who tells a teacher, who in turn contacts the local authority. Usually in that way, matters come to the attention of the courts and therefore orders are sought, but not always. Therefore, if the police become involved, that is a clear mechanism for engaging the social workers in the local authority in this business because often it is not just one child in the family but several. Therefore, keeping an eye on the family could be a very useful part of the armoury, as has been said.
I have been involved in this issue for many years going back to when the law was changed back in the 1980s. Baroness Rendell was not in the House in the 1980s and neither was I, but it came about as a result of intelligence coming forward that there were practitioners in Harley Street and even in poorer communities who were prepared to be involved in this. The law was directed towards medical practitioners. We can fairly say that that does not happen now. Doctors know the consequences and are not involved, and neither are midwives or women involved in medical practice in any form. What is happening now is that these practices are carried out by elders in the community, usually older women, and we have to recognise that the women in the communities, acculturated to this, are often great supporters of the practice and encourage it in each new generation. So it is important to see the depth of the cultural shift that needs to take place to deal with this terrible issue.
While the Bill would add to the range of possibilities, we need to ask why the criminal law has been so unsuccessful. In recent years, there have been two prosecutions. One was of a young doctor and it became very obvious early on—my legal advice was sought at one stage by colleagues who knew the young doctor—that he was in no way involved in communities where FGM was practised and knew very little about it. He was clearly out of his depth at a moment where a birth had taken place and he had stitched a woman after there had been an episiotomy to allow for a natural birth. She was expecting to be restitched in the way that she had been. She was not returned to how she had been, however; there was an overstitching and then there was a question of whether an offence had been committed. The young doctor went through the traumatic experience of having a prosecution brought. We need to be careful that prosecutions should be brought only in the right circumstances.
More recently, a case in Bristol involved a man who was a taxi driver. Someone sitting in his taxi who had been active on this issue encouraged a disclosure—or so it seemed. The taxi driver was encouraged to talk about FGM and drawn into it by someone who, in a way, came close to being an agent provocateur. He was provoked into discussing FGM and spoke about his own daughters. It led to a prosecution but it was shown that his daughters had not been subjected to FGM. Again, that was an unsuccessful prosecution. We have to be very careful about the use of criminal prosecutions. Young people and family members do not come forward where there is coercion and pressure because of the consequence. The idea that a father or mother might be imprisoned or that an elderly grandmother or someone admired in the community and does this work will end up in prison because of a complaint rests heavily on the shoulders of people in the community.
On Tuesday night this week, I was present at a charity that I am a patron of, Safe Hands. A wonderful woman was there known to everyone as Hibo, her first name. She speaks very publicly about how she herself was subjected to FGM as a child—the pain and trauma of it—and how it has affected her life ever since. She is now a woman in middle age with grown-up children. Her daughter, a young woman in her 20s, was present at the meeting. What was clear from Hibo’s description was the way in which this practice is maintained. The silence around it is maintained through shame. Shame is something that we attach to many things concerning women. We have to break down the shame. The good thing that is happening is that the openness of discussion has led to more young Somalian and Ethiopian women who live in this country speaking out about their experiences and saying that they will not undergo the practice. They then become the advocates for change. It is far better in the end that the community itself reckons with and becomes well informed about the consequences of this practice.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, spoke about the judgment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, in the Fornah case—a case that I have written about extensively and was very involved in at the time, when there was campaigning around the issue of whether this was a form of persecution. The Court of Appeal failed badly, but it is interesting. It is an argument for having women in our senior courts because a woman judge on the Court of Appeal dissented and said that it was persecution. A strong argument was made, which was shared by the men in the Supreme Court, that it was persecution. Even if women support the practice, it is because they have been acculturated into thinking that it is acceptable.
As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, it is not just about keeping women chaste and protecting virginity, but about taking away a woman’s sexuality and the possible enjoyment of sex. It is to do with the idea that you will stop a woman being promiscuous. I have travelled to Ethiopia on human rights projects when we discuss with senior people the ways change can be made, and we hear it said that the practice makes the girl gentler—a better wife and more passive. Those descriptions are made.
I want to make this clear and it is important that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, hears me say this: this is not confined to the Muslim community. It is a cultural practice that has nothing to do with religion although many people in a religion are told that it has. In Ethiopia, I met young Christian girls who were experiencing FGM, too. It is not confined to any one religious group, but is a cultural practice about notions of how womanhood ought to be. It is important to have a public discussion about that and to challenge it.
The charity Safe Hands does wonderful work in Ethiopia, Somalia and other countries in Africa. Some 20 years ago, Ruth Rendell came into this House. She had written a crime novel about FGM. She told me about it and I told her that I knew a bit about the subject. I took her to the Africa clinic at the North Middlesex University Hospital where women go who are giving birth and where they have to have an episiotomy—to be cut open—to deliver their babies. The doctors explained that they would not be returned to the way that they were. But the doctors all told us that when those young women returned to have their second babies, their vaginas had been stitched up again. So the practice was happening in the communities. They were not having to return to Somalia or the places from whence they came. It was happening at the hands of older women. The men have also been told that it is the right thing to do. So it is wonderful to have men taking part in this debate and for it to be led by a man. It is important that this is not a women’s issue but an issue for all of us. It is an issue of health, humanity and law.
Criminal law is not the only way forward. Although we want to see prosecutions, we must not urge the Crown Prosecution Service to bring prosecutions and for them to be unsuccessful because they are not the right prosecutions. We want to have confidence that the communities will talk about this, and then people will point to who is at the heart of performing these operations. I greatly commend what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seeks to do and I know that it will make a difference. I thank him for doing this.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton on bringing to the House this extremely important Bill. I am delighted to be able to add my voice in support. As has been said, FGM is a truly horrific crime which is carried out in our country every day of the week and I, like others, am horrified that so many young girls are still being affected. The lack of successful prosecutions shows the complexity of this issue, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for illuminating just how problematic it is.
I was horrified to learn that this week, which is the start of the school summer holidays, is known as the “cutting season” because it is when the practice is traditionally carried out, certainly in the UK. I also learned that, as it is now expensive for people to travel to their country of origin with their daughters, they pool their resources to bring a cutter over from abroad so that girls can be mutilated in groups. Poorer families form a sort of co-operative to raise the funds that will pay for someone to come from overseas. If you are wealthy enough, you can use a doctor or a nurse at a private clinic. London, the city we live in, has been accused of being the FGM capital of Europe because so many people come here, using the Eurostar to bring their daughters over here to be mutilated.
Both here in the UK and elsewhere, Plan International—a charity that I have worked for that seeks the betterment of women and girls across the world—points out that there are certain warning signs we can look for: hearing girls talk about a planned summer trip to a country known to practise FGM; girls talking about visiting relatives for a ceremony or for an event; and holidays that include additional time either at the beginning or the end. I recently read about a scheme that one school has initiated to try to identify young girls in fear of being taken abroad for forced marriage. They suggested that any young woman who was scared in this way should come to school with a spoon hidden in her underwear. This would set off the metal detectors in the school, and in this way she could alert teachers to her plight without actually having to say anything. Is there any possibility of an idea like this being copied?
Finally, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a great writer and campaigner who is now an ex-Muslim, was herself the victim of FGM at the age of five. She says that even today, many years on, she would never be able to prosecute her family for what they did, even though she knows intellectually that FGM is a crime. I shall quote her words:
“It is a psychological issue. The people who are doing this are fathers, mothers, grandmothers, aunts. No little girl is going to send them to prison. How do you live with that guilt?”.
I congratulate her, Nimco Ali and other fine and brave young women, who had this vile practice carried out on them in their younger years, on having the guts and the courage to come forward and talk about it. As others have said, ultimately it is only through education that we will change this practice.
However, in the meantime it is clear that the courts must have the right to defend a child who they think is in this kind of danger. These are vulnerable little girls who are being persecuted and mutilated by the very people they have placed all their trust in—in other words, their families. They are totally vulnerable. I hugely congratulate my noble friend on introducing this important Bill, and I thoroughly support it.
My Lords, it is a privilege to support my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton, whose Private Member’s Bill provides another step in seeking to prevent the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation and ultimately to protect girls from being subjected to it. I concur with the remarks of the preceding speakers. It is also a pleasure to follow my newly ennobled noble friend Lady Boycott, who has just addressed the House. In preparing for today’s debate, I am indebted to the work of Ewelina Ochab, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, who is to respond to the debate. I thank her and her officials for the time that she gave myself and my noble friend earlier this week to discuss the Bill before it was to be debated in your Lordships’ House.
I shall begin by referring to the World Health Organization, which has said:
“Female genital mutilation (FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women”.
The organisation describes four different kinds of FGM, all inflicted on young women who experience pain and suffering as a consequence. WHO research indicates that FGM can lead to several immediate complications and long-term consequences. It reports that the immediate complications include:
“severe pain … excessive bleeding … swelling … fever … infections … urinary problems … wound healing problems … shock”,
FGM also has an effect on childbirth. Women literally have to be cut open to allow the birth of the infant and then sewn up again. This adds unnecessary complications to an already risky situation.
However, FGM stands for more than the inflicting of pain and suffering. The WHO says:
“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls”.
FGM violates a litany of human rights, including the right to security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and potentially also the right to life.
As my noble friend has stressed, and as was emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, FGM is not specified in the Koran and it is happening in non-Muslim communities too. However, religious leaders should be vociferous in speaking out against it and developing the kind of educational approach that my noble friend and others have said is enormously important in combating this cruelty.
Universal human rights are more important than treading carefully around the sensibilities of any community, especially in a country like our own that condemns FGM. Even more so in countries that do not condemn it, it is striking, and perhaps even encouraging and hopeful, that in countries like Sudan the educated and more wealthy citizens do not subject their daughters to FGM. They need to become more active in seeking to outlaw this practice altogether. In this context, I recall the success of that remarkable Englishwoman, Gladys Aylward, who became one of the Chinese foot inspectors enforcing laws that finally ended the cruel practice of the foot-binding of young Chinese girls. The law was changed, but so were hearts, minds and attitudes.
It is greatly to be welcomed that the United Nations has vigorously condemned FGM as a violation of human rights. In Resolution A/RES/67/146 of
“prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity”.
It went on—my noble friend and others should be heartened by this, because it is emphasises the importance of education—to urge,
“States to complement punitive measures with awareness-raising and educational activities designed to promote a process of consensus towards the elimination of female genital mutilations”.
The subsequent UN General Assembly Resolution A/69/150 of
Let us look at the scale of the challenge. According to the United Nations and despite international efforts to end the practice of FGM, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. That is a staggering figure. The countries with the highest prevalence of FGM among girls aged 14 and younger are Gambia with 56%, Mauritania with 54% and Indonesia where around half of girls aged 11 and younger have undergone the practice. The countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 49 are Somalia with 98%, Guinea with 97% and Djibouti with 93%.
But as I have made clear, the issue of FGM is not only one for African countries or other parts of the world. The occurrence of FGM in the UK is significantly lower than the countries I have cited, but as my noble friend Lady Boycott has just pointed out, it is also practised in the UK and there are women and girls in our midst who have been subjected to it. The National Health Service has reported:
“There were 5,39l newly recorded cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) reported in England during 2016-17, according to the second publication of annual statistics from this data set. The FGM statistics, published … by NHS Digital, also showed that there were 9,179 total attendances in the same period where FGM was identified or a medical procedure for FGM was undertaken”.
For six in 10 attendances, medical treatment post FGM was required. According to the NHS,
“Women and girls born in Somalia account for … 35 per cent or 875 cases … of newly recorded cases of FGM with a known country of birth (2,504). Of the newly recorded cases, 112 involved women and girls who were born in the United Kingdom. In 57 cases, the FGM was known to have been undertaken in the UK”.
Providing assistance for post-FGM consequences is obviously crucial, but we must do more and act to prevent the practice of FGM in the first place, which is why my noble friend introduced the Bill. Despite the clear legal provisions criminalising the use of the FGM, as set out in this House by my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under Heywood, prosecution does not necessarily follow. That was confirmed by Her Majesty’s Government in a response to a Written Question tabled by Laura Smith, MP for Crewe and Nantwich, who asked about the number of prosecutions for FGM in the last 30 years. The government Minister replied:
“There has been one prosecution which was under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003”.
As my noble and learned friend pointed out, even that prosecution was unsuccessful, which is truly shocking.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley’s Bill is an opportunity to shine a light once again on the barbarism of FGM and the wholly inadequate policing of this crime, but it also introduces a new safeguard by equipping the courts with an extra power to protect children from the risks of FGM. This is about striking the right balance in the law. It is significant that the Council of Europe recently passed a resolution on,
“Striking a balance between the best interest of the child and the need to keep families together”.
The Bill seeks to achieve that idea of striking the right balance.
To conclude, notwithstanding the wider question of parental responsibility, we need to recognise that the case of FGM differs significantly from any other cases that the UK courts normally deal with—namely, we are discussing a procedure that inflicts pain and suffering on girls and women, is both unnecessary and harmful and may have lifelong consequences for the affected girls or women to deal with for the rest of their lives. For those reasons, I support my noble friend’s Bill and hope that it will achieve a Second Reading in your Lordships’ House today.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the Bill and taking up the cudgels of the late and great Lady Ruth Rendell, who raised the issue of FGM for many years. I think that this is the first time I have spoken on FGM in this House; I have been here only a couple of years.
It is an interesting history. I was at the Home Office when I first heard about FGM. A young girl, Nimco Ali, came to see me with a few girls from an organisation she had started called Daughters of Eve. She metaphorically took me by the collar and shook me. She said, “This is child abuse. This is violence against women. You have to do something”. It was a lesson: people think that meetings with Ministers do not affect them, but it affected me and has led me to work on FGM ever since.
At that time, in the age of austerity, the Home Office was facing severe cuts. As it happens, I was reshuffled to the Department for International Development, which had money—and has money, rightly so. I walked in and the first thing I said was, “I want to do something about female genital mutilation because our diaspora hangs on to the rules even longer than the countries of origin”. As is so often the case when you are a Minister—as I am sure the Ministers opposite will know—if you meet a like-minded civil servant, you are in with a very good chance. I met one such civil servant who will remain nameless. They said, “Here’s one I prepared earlier”, and brought forward plans for a £35 million programme to support work that was then going on in Africa. We could not be finger-wagging colonialists saying, “This is what you should do”. We were supporting an African-led movement. As said by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the United Nations, 25 African countries and the African Union have banned FGM. So, this was about timing as well, which so often plays an important part.
The £35 million programme that we brought forward was the biggest in the world. I went to the UN Commission on the Status of Women and was allowed to announce the programme, but not the figure of £35 million. I am not entirely sure that I should say this, but I will: at that point, David Cameron wanted the amount to be in line with the Downing Street press release for International Women’s Day. I was sitting on a platform in front of an audience of 600 people, including the heads of countries involved in moving forward on FGM. It came to my turn, I gave my speech and I thought, “This is ridiculous. This is the moment”, so I said, “I am very happy to announce a £35 million worldwide programme, the biggest ever, to support the African-led movement”. I remember seeing my Private Secretary, who was busy on her BlackBerry, gasp, thinking, “What has my Minister done? I will be in trouble”. I was in trouble when I got back, but that is another story. It was a coalition; let us leave it at that.
That announcement kicked off everything that noble Lords will have heard about on this subject in the past five or so years, which carries on today. Legislative changes were brought in at that time. We managed to bring in travel ban orders, female genital protection orders and mandatory reporting. Immediately after that announcement, I did a Channel 4 programme in the UN basement. The next morning, I woke up to a text from the Evening Standard. I phoned in and did an interview, which kicked off the most amazing FGM campaign by a newspaper. It ran FGM stories every day and still does. It is going through a regeneration. That meant that I had a lot of power behind the argument. It also meant that many people, including David Cameron and Justine Greening, who was fantastic, wanted to join my mission. We had the Girl Summit, which sought a worldwide FGM ban. Things began to change, but as has been said, that one prosecution failed. As said by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the law is not the answer, although it is very important. I will come to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, shortly.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of equality. I have to say—I have said this from many a platform—that if we were cutting off half of men’s penises, that practice would not have lasted five seconds, let alone 5,000 years. Noble Lords may laugh, but it is so true. There would not be one failed prosecution; there would be successful prosecutions across the land and across the world. In fact, it would never have started.
I want to pay tribute to the work of Efua Dorkenoo, who was the most amazing woman and the mother of the fight to end FGM. Sadly, she died recently, but her dedication and bravery in bringing this practice to light made all that has followed possible. As said by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, she was a brave African woman who talked about women’s sexuality and all its issues.
There is cutting in this country but many girls are taken back to their mother countries. Someone raised the issue of this being the “cutting season”; of course, it is. Any girl who goes missing in the period before school breaks up should be reported because it is a clue that leads to the possibility of a travel ban order. As I said, we made some great steps during the coalition but we did not go far enough. We introduced mandatory reporting but on the front line, social workers, teachers, healthcare professionals, the police and other public servants did not have the knowledge or confidence to address FGM. At the Girl Summit, we managed to introduce front-line training, but it was online; that is vital but inadequate. It needs to be part of the studies that lead to qualification. We cannot expect professionals to report unless they have the knowledge and confidence to do so.
Importantly, a measure that still remains untouched is teaching about FGM in schools, as so many girls have no idea what is about to happen to them. We have to be able to warn them about sudden visits home, signpost who they can talk to if they are worried and explain what might happen. We have to bring this into schools. I am afraid I tried with Michael Gove and failed. I also tried with Justine, whom I hoped would bring it forward when she was Secretary of State for Education, but sadly she did not. We still need that to be brought forward in schools, particularly in areas of high prevalence, where there is extreme resistance by the community, parents and head teachers to spreading any knowledge about this. We need to be speaking to the male leaders of communities that practice FGM. Of course, much of the answer lies within the community itself, so we clearly need to support the brave girls and groups who campaign from and within the community and to make sure that they are given the help and funding they need to carry out their hugely important work.
That brings me to the point of today’s debate. This should absolutely be a tool in the court’s armoury—anything that enables authorities and professionals to step in and intervene to stop harm to a child is vital. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is a sensible and useful addition to the tools that can be used for this intractable, harmful and disgraceful practice.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Gale is unwell, so I have the pleasure and the honour of making a guest appearance in your Lordships’ House. I am delighted to be speaking in this debate and in such distinguished company. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has set out extremely well the amendment, and the legal and other brains around the House have also explained the amendment in some detail. I shall not repeat those explanations.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this Bill and this debate. It is another wake-up call to us to be vigilant about this abhorrent practice performed on women and girls, and which is of course illegal in this country. I am also delighted to hear that the noble Lord is committed to fighting on in this manner. This is a form of child abuse—and “child” means up to the age of 18. The noble Lord has cleverly intertwined two Acts: the Children Act 1989 and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. FGM has been a scourge in our and other societies for many years. There has never been a prosecution, although we have come near to it in this country. It is an act frequently performed on girls from some communities—not necessarily religious—against their consent, often arranged by parents or a relative, and which is potentially dangerous. It is very often performed by a person with no surgical experience, and is likely to have severe psychological consequences for women and cause severe physical difficulties in sexual intercourse and childbirth. Repair is possible but I am not aware of how common this is. I have spoken to doctors and midwives who are horrified by the damage done to women and girls. Most victims are young, and have no say in the proceedings. Statistics probably underestimate the size of this problem.
The Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is part of a process to tackle violence against children and it may be useful to give some indicators of that process today. The Children Act 1989 is central to the amendment. There have, of course, been many Children Acts in the UK, all responding to the current needs of children. They have evolved over the years. There is no single piece of legislation that covers child protection or safeguarding in the UK, but a number of laws provide a comprehensive framework. The child protection systems across the UK—in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland—are different, but all based on similar principles. The basis of all systems is that the welfare of the child is paramount, as expressed in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1989, which the UK has of course ratified. I am glad to say that the UK has also recently ratified another important convention: the Council of Europe Lanzarote Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.
We are fortunate in the UK to have a vigorous and vigilant voluntary sector for children. I know that, because I work with it. We have campaigns supporting children against abuse, such as the Together We Can Tackle Child Abuse campaign. We have had seminal reports, such as the one produced by our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in 2009 following the horrific Victoria Climbié case. This report called for an overhaul of children’s social work, including a safeguarding delivery unit. As I said, things have evolved and we in the UK have been active on child welfare. There are criticisms, including a lack of integration of strategies for children and interaction between the various frameworks and definitions, lack of data and not enough consultation with children, including child victims. I support strongly the participation of children in developing strategies which involve them. As one young woman said to me at a recent seminar on mental health and youth justice, “We are experts by experience”. How true. I shall return to this later.
I am a member of the British delegation to the Council of Europe, and I chair the Sub-Committee on Children. I am impressed by the commitment of the Council of Europe in advocating for children. Its Istanbul Convention of 2011 speaks specifically about FGM, and the Council of Ministers has called for multiagency co-operation and integrated strategies to combat this practice—something we should perhaps look at more closely in our own efforts.
This amendment is an example of, and contribution to, joining the dots. FGM is a problematic issue, as has been explored today. It is well summed up in the response to a parliamentary Written Question in February 2017:
“There has been one prosecution brought under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which was unsuccessful. The police and Crown Prosecution Service … have highlighted that one reason for the lack of investigations and prosecutions is a lack of referrals. In addition, cultural taboo and the age and vulnerability of the victims may prevent them coming forward”.
This is something we need to crack: any attempt to integrate aspects of our laws, as this amendment does, will help. As I said earlier, there is no single piece of legislation that covers child protection. The Children Act 2004, which supplemented the 1989 Act, identified the components of child protection, including: the principle of paramountcy, with the welfare of the child being most important—the welfare of the child must come first; the provision of services for children in need; the duty to investigate; co-operative arrangements for care and care orders; parental responsibility; the protocol for inquiries and case conferences; police powers; and emergency protection powers. All these aspects have other aspects in other Acts. As I said before, integration is something we should look at. We should work together; perhaps the Minister can say something about this and talk to others afterwards about how we might integrate better.
Yesterday, we had an important Statement on the need for personal, social and health education in schools. Many of us have fought for this for years, believing that a key element of education is encouraging young people to develop confidence, social and emotional skills and self-esteem. By having such skills, health and relationships can improve. Through such programmes in schools, maybe we can encourage girls who are likely to be or who have been victims of FGM to speak out—and not just them, but their friends and others in their communities. Of course, it is unthinkable for girls to denounce their parents, but they can surely talk, or learn to talk, to someone who is sympathetic to their case and their cause. There is no substitute for “experts by experience”.
When speaking of FGM, I am always reminded of the debt we owe to the late and much loved Ruth Rendell, who has been mentioned by others. She was of course a celebrated crime novelist. In a lesser light, she was also my mentor when I came here. She vigorously supported the fight against FGM by speaking at conferences, by giving interviews and indeed by funding a film to be used in the training of midwives and nurses.
She also, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy said, wrote a novel which introduced the subject of FGM. It was called Live Flesh and described a plot to subject a girl to FGM and how the girl narrowly escaped. In what I believe was her last speech in your Lordships’ House, in December 2014, a week after mandatory reporting of FGM was instituted as part of the Government’s reducing and preventing crime strategy, she said:
“those of us who have worked against FGM have long been convinced that the best way of stopping it would be to prosecute the perpetrators”.—[
In France, there have been more than 100 successful prosecutions; also in Italy, Sweden and parts of Africa. Parents have been prosecuted for employing a so-called circumciser to cut the girl. The parents were sent to prison for three years. In France, girls are regularly examined by their doctors to check whether they have had FGM or are in danger of having it.
As I said, there have been no prosecutions in the UK. The reason given is that a girl will not go to court and give evidence against her parents about abuse carried out on her. I repeat that the girl should be given the self-empowerment to talk to someone about it.
FGM is an appalling crime. I think we hear less now about cultural values overriding cruelty to children, but FGM still goes on. The welfare of the child is paramount. By combining an FGM Bill with a children’s Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has done a service to child protection. I support the amendment and hope that the Government will continue to strive mightily to fight the crime of FGM.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate. The strength of support for the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, from all sides of the House is testament to the unanimous desire to stamp out this barbaric act. Female genital mutilation is an extremely painful and harmful practice that blights the lives of many girls and women. The Government roundly condemn this practice and are determined to see it eradicated in this country and elsewhere.
The practice of FGM is an age-old one, deeply steeped in the culture and tradition of practising communities. Those who practice it no doubt genuinely believe that it is in their children’s best interests to conform with the prevailing custom of their community. But that does not excuse such a gross violation of their human rights. It is wholly unacceptable to allow a practice that can have such devastating consequences for the health of a young girl. The physical and psychological effects can last throughout her life. The mutilation and impairment of young girls and women can have no place in modern society.
The Government are clear that tackling FGM is about protecting vulnerable girls and women. That is why, in 2015, the Government introduced several legislative measures to strengthen the law on FGM to help make prosecutions more likely and protect women and girls at risk. These measures included extending extraterritorial jurisdiction to cover offences of FGM committed abroad by habitual, as well as permanent, UK residents; lifelong anonymity for victims of FGM; the creation of a new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM; a mandatory duty to report FGM in girls under the age of 18 and the introduction of female genital mutilation protection orders—FGMPOs.
However, bringing perpetrators to justice cannot happen unless victims or those at risk of FGM come forward. The highly personal and intimate nature of the offence may be one reason for a victim or a girl at risk being reluctant to report FGM. But added to this is the fact that the crime of FGM is usually committed in a family context, with most victims or those at risk, too young, scared or unwilling to report members of their own family. This makes it a more complex and sensitive issue and one where gathering sufficient evidence to prosecute is challenging. That is why the police continue to work with a broad range of agencies to raise awareness of FGM and encourage more people to report it.
FGM occurs in specific communities, with religious reasons cited as one explanation why FGM is practised. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, it is not mentioned in the Koran. Since 2014, the Government have been working with faith leaders to address the practice of FGM, with a specific focus on breaking the perception that FGM is indeed a faith requirement. It is not. Over 250 faith and community leaders have signed a declaration denouncing the practice, and the Government are using their work with faith leaders in target communities to reach further into other communities.
Education of girls and women is essential, and education from within their communities is likely to be the most effective. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned the prevalence of FGM in Africa, and FGM is indeed unlikely to end in the UK before it ends in Africa. The Department for International Development led a £35 million flagship programme—the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, mentioned it as part of an interesting anecdote about working as a team in coalition government—that supports the Africa-led movement to end FGM, and is supporting work in 17 countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, gave an outstanding speech in which he set out the challenges and impacts of FGM and the steps that have been taken so far. I welcome his support for the action taken by the Government. We are keen to do more. I also welcome his focus and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on advocacy. Both are right, and it must be a priority as we take things forward.
I was very pleased—and, indeed, a little relieved—that the Bill attracted the significant support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. He mentioned the lack of prosecutions, as did the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Regrettably, they are right, but, as also noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, prosecutions must not be undertaken lightly. As I mentioned, FGM cases are challenging to prosecute for many reasons.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. I must say that I have a sense of déjà vu. I feel very strongly about FGM. Eleven years ago, sitting in her place, I worked very closely with Baroness Rendell, because we were not getting anywhere, we were not moving things forward. There was Project Azure with the Metropolitan Police, and one issue was no prosecutions. It is appalling that we were trying then to do it—I know the complexity—and yet for some reason we still cannot do it. We must break the logjam, as well as do all the other things which are so important. I feel a complete failure that in 11 years we have not done something about such an abhorrent and terrible thing.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and of course agree, but with the caveat that we must ensure that the prosecutions are the right ones. The Crown Prosecution Service’s female genital mutilation prosecution guidance provides guidance for prosecutors in dealing with cases of FGM. The guidance was revised following the amendments made to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 by the Serious Crime Act, as I outlined earlier. In addition, lead FGM prosecutors have now been appointed for each CPS area, and all those areas have agreed protocols with their local police forces setting out the arrangements for investigation and prosecution of FGM.
We would all like more prosecutions for FGM, there is no doubt about that. However, we must make sure that we do not prosecute the wrong people.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and entirely agree with what she just said about not bringing flimsy cases that do not stand up in court. She will have heard what was said earlier on about the number of successful prosecutions in other European Union countries. Are we looking at best practice elsewhere so that the failure rate that the noble Lord, Lord West, identified, does not continue for another 11 or 12 years?
Yes, the noble Lord is completely right. I was just about to come on to that, because I listened with great interest to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about prosecutions in other countries which one might say are very similar to ours. There must be things that we can learn from those countries. I will take that back to the department—I will write to noble Lords if there is any more information on it—to ask what we are doing about it and whether we are looking at the successful prosecutions in other countries.
It was my pleasure to listen to the well-informed speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, just two days after her maiden speech, but I was distressed to learn that there is a cutting season and to hear about the steps that families now take to continue this practice by bringing third parties from overseas to inflict this on a number of girls. I thank her for her contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us of the prevalence of FGM. The figure of 200 million is truly shocking. This practice is truly barbaric and far more widespread than many would believe.
I turn to the Bill, which seeks to amend a small and, we believe, unintentional gap in the law. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, there has been an oversight. He explained that the purpose of the Bill is to amend Section 8(4) of the Children Act 1989 to bring proceedings for FGMPOs within the definition of “family proceedings” for the purpose of the 1989 Act. The effect of bringing FGMPO proceedings within this definition would be that a number of powers under the Children Act 1989 would be opened up to the family courts in those proceedings, such as the power to make a care or supervision order.
The Government are pleased to be able to support the Bill at Second Reading. There are a few minor and technical amendments that we believe are appropriate and we will of course discuss them with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and other interested noble Lords before the Bill returns to your Lordships’ House for its next stage. First, however, I will provide a little bit of background on the introduction of FGMPOs and the ways in which such orders may currently be made, and explain the framework that applies to child protection in England and Wales.
FGMPOs were introduced in 2015 alongside a series of other legislative measures intended to strengthen the criminal law in this area and to make successful prosecutions more likely. An FGMPO is, however, a civil law measure, designed to protect those at risk of FGM from ever being subjected to this cruel practice. Applications for FGMPOs can be made to the family court or High Court. The family court and High Court can also make an FGMPO of their own volition, as can a criminal court during proceedings for an FGM offence. Between July 2015, when FGMPOs were introduced, and March 2018 the courts have made 220 FGMPOs.
FGMPOs were closely modelled on forced marriage protection orders, introduced in 2007 by means of adding a new Part 4A to the Family Law Act 1996. All proceedings under the Family Law Act 1996 are defined in Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 as “family proceedings” for the purpose of the 1989 Act. However, when FGMPOs were introduced the then Government decided to include the relevant provisions in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, rather than in the Family Law Act, so that all the relevant law on FGM would be in one place. But, one apparently unintended consequence of that approach was that FGMPO proceedings were not included within the definition of “family proceedings” for the purpose of the Children Act 1989. A number of orders can be made to protect children in “family proceedings” under the 1989 Act and the exclusion of FGMPO proceedings from that definition means that, as the law stands, if a local authority applicant for an FGMPO wishes also to apply for, for example, a care or a supervision order, a separate application is required.
Bringing FGMPO proceedings within the definition of “family proceedings” would mean that an application by a local authority or the NSPCC for a care or supervision order relating to a child at risk of significant harm could be made during FGMPO proceedings, thus avoiding the need for a separate application and potential delay. Other powers of the family court, including powers to make, for example, a prohibited steps order, special guardianship order or family assistance order, would also be available to the FGMPO proceedings. The Government believe that this simplification of process that the Bill intends is sensible and we are pleased to support it. It adds to the measures that the Government have brought forward to tackle FGM issues.
I turn to child protection in England and Wales and the role of the courts and local authorities. One of the key principles of the legislation that underpins the child protection system in England and Wales is that children are best looked after within their families. However, where a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, it has a duty to make such inquiries as it considers necessary to decide whether to take any action to safeguard or to promote a child’s welfare. Ultimately, however, it is for the courts to make that decision. They may make an order to remove a child from his or her family’s care only if they are satisfied that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, attributable to the care being given to the child or the child being beyond parental control. The welfare of the child must be the paramount consideration in any decision that the courts make.
On child protection more generally, the Government have ensured that there is an ongoing responsibility for schools to safeguard the children in their care. Recently refreshed statutory guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education, includes specific information on what FGM is, what to look out for and where to go for help.
To conclude, the Bill seeks to make a small, technical amendment to close a gap in the law that will have the principal benefit in FGMPO proceedings of making available to the court a number of powers under the Children Act 1989 that would serve to increase the ability of the court to protect children at risk. Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the eagle-eyed lawyer, Mr Maddison, who was so determined to remedy this oversight and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The Government are pleased to support the Bill and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful and humbled to receive such unanimous support around the House from such distinguished speakers, many with greater knowledge of these matters than I have. My noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood reminded us what this involves, through the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke about work in Africa. I could link that to what my noble friend Lord Alton said about work in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is worth reflecting that NGOs are making some progress with these communities. It was a great pleasure to have the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, speak. She is absolutely right to reinforce what the Minister said about this not being a religious matter; this is not in the Koran; it extends beyond simply one religion. It is not religious and it is wrong to be made to think that it is purely a Muslim matter.
It was lovely to have our new colleague on these Benches, my noble friend Lady Boycott, speak. From what she said then and in her maiden speech, there is no question but that she will be an extremely valuable addition to your Lordships’ House. I was grateful to her for mentioning the bravery of people such as Nimco Ali, who came to one of the debates I started, because that is the way in which we will educate people. The Minister mentioned education. “Education, education, education”—we have heard that before—but in this instance we have to get the word out. Prosecutions are important, but education is even more so.
I was grateful to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, who has such experience and passion to right these wrongs. Two distinguished surgeons and Members of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Winston, have described to me the terrible things they face in the operating theatre when trying to repair this damage. The noble Baroness said that if our penises were shortened, we might mind more, but there is an important point here. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, many people ask whether this is not the same as male circumcision. It is absolutely not. Whatever you may think about male circumcision —we probably all think different things—it is not done to decrease sexual pleasure. Some would argue that male circumcision results in that; I could not possibly say.
I was very pleased to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, that the Labour Party will support us, because that in some ways is a tribute to the incredible work of Baroness Rendell, whom we all miss so much. Most of all, I am grateful to the Minister, who has been incredibly helpful. I look forward to working with her further on this matter.
It has been an extraordinary debate about something that we all care passionately about. I regard the human body as a kind of sacred vessel. What we do to our own body is one thing, but we should not allow other people to interfere with it in any circumstances. Having thanked everyone who has spoken, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.