Skip to main content

Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 577: debated on Monday 10 March 2014

4. What steps she is taking to increase the number of people who are investigated and charged for carrying out female genital mutilation. (902906)

Government Ministers have signed a declaration which reaffirms our commitment to protecting current and future generations of girls from this abuse. We are working closely with the Director of Public Prosecutions to increase investigations for FGM and are considering suggestions for strengthening the criminal law. The Government are determined to do all we can to bring perpetrators to justice.

I congratulate the Government on the work that they have done recently to deal with this shocking criminal offence, but will the Home Secretary commit to a national campaign to raise awareness of FGM and the fact that it is a serious criminal offence, similar to campaigns such as that on domestic violence?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point in two ways for those who are potentially at risk of being victims of female genital mutilation. First, it is important that they understand their situation. Secondly, it is important that those who are aiming to undertake or arrange for others to undergo FGM know what the law is and where they stand in relation to it. The Government have indeed produced a campaign. We have launched a new communications campaign in relation to this issue. I also refer the hon. Gentleman to the “Statement opposing female genital mutilation”, which is a pocket-sized leaflet that sets out the law. About 41,000 statements have already been distributed across the UK in 11 languages.

FGM by its nature is a secretive crime, often perpetrated by close relatives of the victims, too many of whom are very young and too frightened to seek help. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have the training and expertise necessary to take a proactive approach to identifying and protecting these very young victims, rather than simply hoping that they will come forward of their own volition?

My hon. Friend also makes important points about this issue. We are working with the victims that she mentions and, in particular, we are doing some work with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Everybody in the House is frustrated that there has not been a prosecution yet. We want to see prosecutions because that can make it clear to people what they are doing and what is at risk when they undertake this crime.

17. The Education Secretary has agreed to write to all schools in England about FGM, following intense pressure from this side of the House and the brave campaign by Fahma Mohamed. Given that, what further discussions has the Home Secretary had with her colleagues in government in order to ensure that health staff, social workers and those working for other Departments and agencies report to the police any instances of FGM they have identified? (902919)

Ensuring that incidents are reported is important, and on 6 February the Department of Health announced that for the first time ever, from April, all NHS acute hospitals must provide information on patients who have undergone female genital mutilation. That will provide key information about the incidence and prevalence of FGM and will support social services and the police in their work by ensuring that they can target those areas where it is taking place.

The House is united in wanting to see people prosecuted for this appalling crime. Even more, we want to see it stamped out altogether. What is being done to ensure that those young women who are threatened—and their family members—have a confidential way to report the possibility that it will happen to them?

We are taking a genuine cross-Government approach to the issue. It is being co-ordinated by the Minister for Crime Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), but we are bringing in the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for International Development, which is putting in significant funds to try to deal with the problem at source overseas, both in those communities where the culture is strong—feeding back into diaspora communities in the UK—and where there are individuals performing this act on young girls, to ensure that we can eradicate it.

One of the greatest challenges in tackling this issue—in terms of prosecutions and protecting the young women and, often, babies who are affected—is the level of awareness among social workers, police and other agencies. That challenge has been identified in Wales, and I suspect it is the same in England. What is the Home Secretary doing in Whitehall and on a cross-border basis with colleagues in Wales to ensure that we have a uniform approach to tackling the issue?

I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that on issues of this sort—and on the violence against women and girls agenda generally—we work with the Welsh Government and others. We are always willing to look at experience and practice, as well as at what others have found useful in dealing with this appalling crime.

May I warmly welcome the Government’s declaration on female genital mutilation? Does my right hon. Friend agree that political or cultural sensitivities should never get in the way of tackling what is an awful abuse and crime?

My hon. Friend is right. This is an appalling abuse of young girls and we should ensure that we deal with it as such. It is right that we should not allow cultural sensitivities or concerns to get in the way of dealing with what is, at root, a crime.