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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 622: debated on Monday 12 February 2001

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2.43 p.m.

In the light of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health on female genital mutilation, when they will take steps to implement some or all of the 12 recommendations in the report.

My Lords, I was pleased to participate in the launch of the all-party group's report in November and to underline the Government's commitment to help stamp out this appalling practice. We are working actively to this end, both in the United Kingdom, where the practice is outlawed, and in our international development work. The report contains a great many detailed recommendations and useful suggestions which are consistent with work that we are already doing and will continue to do in the future.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer and declare an interest as patron of the London Black Women's Health Action Project. Is my noble friend aware that the public in this country know virtually nothing about female genital mutilation and its disastrous and long-term effects? Does she agree that a campaign might be mounted to raise public awareness?

My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend on constantly bringing this issue to the attention of the House as a patron of a London women's health group. I agree with my noble friend that raising public awareness is very important. The only way that FGM will eventually be eradicated is through a continuous programme of education and information aimed at the grass roots level. The Government are taking steps to promote that kind of work, for example, through FORWARD, an NGO actively working with communities to bring an end to this practice.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the United Nations Status of Women Commission looks on this as a serious issue and has done so for a long time? Has she seen the report in the newspapers of the two young Kenyan women who won a landmark court decision which enabled them to refuse to suffer this indignity and abuse in their own country? Does she think that that might be helpful not only in terms of publicity but also in terms of helping to change attitudes in the countries where this practice is so common?

My Lords, I am aware of the various UN statements which cover FGM, including the statements in the Beijing Plus Five document and also through CEDAW. In relation to the two young Kenyan women, we are constantly working with different countries to encourage them to outlaw FGM because then it will be possible to deal with the situation not only in the UK context but also in the home country. I agree that publicising that case might well be one way to raise awareness and begin the process of changing attitudes in various communities.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us in which areas of the UK FGM is most prevalent? What is being done at a local level to combat this problem?

My Lords, an estimated 15,000 girls in the UK are considered to be at risk of FGM. The majority of these are in families who are settled in inner-city areas, for example, London, Birmingham and Cardiff. A good example of a local level response is the North West London African/Somali Well Women Clinic, which was set up by the Central Middlesex Hospitals Trust. The clinic provides comprehensive care, including, for example, surgery to repair and sometimes reverse damage caused by FGM. It is important that we ensure that other trusts are aware of the kind of work that that trust is doing and promote and spread good practice.

My Lords, this is a serious and important subject. Alas, the report is not available either in the Library, the Printed Paper Office or from the all-party parliamentary group so I am unable to ask the Minister about its contents. However, we all agree that female genital mutilation is a harmful and cruel practice. Does the Minister also agree that it is deeply ingrained in the culture and religion of some of the developing countries and if it were banned it would be pushed underground? A new approach is being used by organisations such as UNICEF to target community leaders, including Islamic sheikhs, elders, women, youth, health workers and artists to develop a consensus on the best way to approach the problem. Do the Government agree that education and support are better tools with which to push for that change rather than a ban? The noble Baroness told the House in November that £400 million had been committed by the Government to support primary education programmes. How much of that money has specifically been targeted to FGM?

My Lords, we think that education and support are important. However, we also think that the legislation which we have in the United Kingdom to ban FGM is important. I totally agree with the noble Baroness that this practice is deeply ingrained in the cultures of some communities. However, we cannot get away from the point that FGM is mutilation. While it is important to guard against stigmatising communities, raising awareness within communities of that mutilation and ensuring that young girls understand that they do not have to be mutilated in that way is an important part of our strategy.

I shall draw to the attention of the all-party group that its report is not available. I think that it will be concerned to know.

The noble Baroness also asked about DfID funding. We support a number of different initiatives. We support the World Health Organisation training programme on prevention of FGM; it is operating in a number of countries, including Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania. We also give £400,000—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, referred to £400 million—for similar work to the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices.

My Lords, is my memory correct that the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, took a Bill through the House of Lords—it subsequently became law—making FGM illegal? If so, can the Minister say how many people have been prosecuted since the inception of that Act for operating in that way on young people?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, took the Bill through the House. There have been one or two complaints but no prosecutions to date because of the difficulty of getting data in relation to the matter.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for remembering—it was long before her time as Minister—that I took the Bill through the House of Lords. Since the Bill was passed and the practice became illegal, have there been any prosecutions?

My Lords, as I replied to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, there have been no prosecutions.