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Female Genital Mutilation

House of Lords written question – answered on 20th July 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they plan to collate statistics on the levels of female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to prosecute those who perform female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to protect temporary United Kingdom residents from female genital mutilation.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what they are doing to combat female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made as to whether to launch a nationwide campaign highlighting the dangers of female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom.

To ask Her Majesty's Government who will be responsible for commissioning female genital mutilation services under proposals for general practitioner commissioning of healthcare services.

Photo of Baroness Browning Baroness Browning Minister of State (Home Office)

Female genital mutilation is an illegal and unacceptable form of child abuse and a form of violence against girls and women that the Government are committed to eradicating. We want to protect current and future generations of girls from this abuse and to ensure that those girls and women living with the consequences of FGM are given the care and support they deserve.

Our focus is prevention. The Government have recently (February 2011) launched multi-agency practice guidelines for front-line professionals such as teachers, GPs and nurses. The guidelines aim to raise awareness of FGM, highlight the risks that people should be aware of and set out clearly the steps that should be taken to safeguard children and women from this abuse. Legislation alone cannot eliminate the practice so our resources will be aimed at raising awareness of the law on FGM and the health implications with communities and front-line practitioners. The guidelines are a key step in ensuring that professionals are able and confident to intervene to protect girls at risk. In addition, more than 40,000 leaflets and 40,000 posters on the prevention of FGM have been circulated to schools, health services, charities and community groups around the country.

FGM's prevalence is difficult to estimate because of the hidden nature of the crime. However, a study based on the 2001 Census suggested that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 could be at high risk of FGM in England and Wales each year, and nearly 66,000 women in England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM.

FGM has been explicitly illegal since 1985 when the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 was passed. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (which came into force on 3 March 2004) repealed and replaced the 1985 Act and made it an offence for the first time for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to carry out FGM abroad, or to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal. To reflect the serious harm that FGM causes, the Act also increased the maximum penalty from five to 14 years' imprisonment. There have so far been no prosecutions under the 2003 Act. Research suggests that the most likely barrier to prosecution is the pressure from family or wider community that leads cases to go unreported. The CPS is due to publish new legal guidance on FGM later this summer to ensure that it is able to prosecute cases of FGM that satisfy the evidential and public interest tests within the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Temporary United Kingdom residents (refugees and asylum seekers whose application is still being considered, and anyone who has been lawfully living in the UK for 12 months immediately prior to treatment) are afforded the protections available to permanent UK residents, including access to 15 specialist clinics in the NHS which treat women and girls who have been subjected to FGM. These clinics have trained and culturally sensitive staff who offer a range of confidential healthcare services for women and girls including reversal surgery. These clinics are open to women to attend without referral from their own doctors. These clinics are funded by local PCTs.

In relation to responsibility for commissioning female genital mutilation services, the consultation paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People: consultation on the funding and commissioning routes for public health proposed that local authorities should be responsible for working in partnership to tackle issues such as social exclusion including violence prevention. This could include supra-local commissioning of services such as female genital mutilation (FGM) clinics. The consultation closed on 31 March 2011 and the Government will be publishing their response shortly.

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