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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 735: debated on Thursday 16 February 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many cases of female genital mutilation were investigated by the police in the last year for which figures are available.

My Lords, information on the number of police investigations involving female genital mutilation is not collected centrally. However, the Government work closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that they are equipped with guidance and information to deal with cases of FGM, and that they are clear on their legal powers to protect women and girls from this abhorrent practice.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that between November 2009 and November 2011 there were 63 alleged cases reported to the Metropolitan Police which never reached prosecution? Will she undertake to ask the Government to set up a technical review to find out why these cases do not come to prosecution in order to ensure that proper training is given to doctors and midwives to stop this practice in this country? Does she agree that successful prosecutions are the only way to deter families from perpetrating this terrible mutilation on their daughters?

My Lords, I can inform the noble Baroness that in September 2011 the CPS launched a female genital mutilation guidance pack that has been developed to assist prosecutors in what she knows are extremely complex cases. We are intending to monitor that guidance over 12 months and we will evaluate the results. The Government are of course also working closely with schools, health service staff, charities and community groups so that through the multi-agencies we are able to raise as much awareness as we can. As to the noble Baroness’s point on prosecutions, this is an issue that at the end of the day will achieve results only when the communities themselves decide really to engage with bringing forward perpetrators.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the unwillingness of young girls to go into court and give evidence? FGM is an abhorrent practice but is not regarded as such by many of the young girls themselves and by those who advise them. There are many who tell them that if they are not mutilated they will not become real women, they will not find a man to marry them, and they are bullied and victimised by their contemporaries. Is the Minister further aware that if they go into court they may be required to testify against their own parents or family members and people they have known and had a close relationship with all their lives?

I think the noble Baroness has hit the nail on the head. That is why it is so difficult to get prosecutions. There is also an embedded cultural issue. Until we reach out and get through to the older women in those communities and get them to respond to the young girls who are often unwilling to undergo these practices, we will never get to the nub of the problem. However, I must say that I have come across young people—both men and women—from those communities where FGM is being practised who are beginning openly to stand up to say that they oppose it. That is a positive sign for us all.

My Lords, two or three years ago I attended a round-table multi-agency discussion in Birmingham on female genital mutilation. One of the main problems in getting the message across to some insular communities is the language barrier and the lack of female interpreters. There was real concern that many male interpreters do not convey the fact that FGM is a crime with serious consequences. Can my noble friend say what the position is on interpreters and whether this is still a problem?

I cannot answer my noble friend directly on the position of female interpreters because that information is not held centrally. However, I can reassure her and your Lordships' House that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and all those involved in the issue take it incredibly seriously and are working with the sensitivity that it requires. I repeat that unless the communities themselves are willing to engage with outside organisations, this will remain a problem.

My Lords, I recently attended an international seminar in Brussels which was focused, as the noble Baroness suggests, on how communities can themselves help with this issue. What is being done to engage the communities themselves? How can we learn from some African countries, which are taking work into the communities, rather than trying to find ways ourselves and not succeeding?

The noble Baroness raises an important point about engagement with the communities. We have set up an FGM fund of £50,000 through which we are helping to fund 10 organisations on the front line that are helping to prevent FGM within those communities. It is important that the results and the influences come from within the communities, so we are engaged with working closely not only with the young people through school education but with the older generation through community groups.

My Lords, is it not also of critical importance for victims to get appropriate help and support? Is it not therefore the role of the Crown Prosecution Service to support those victims so they are enabled to give their evidence? Are the specialist prosecutors who deal with violence against women still able to do that, bearing in mind the cuts? Is that not something that we should pursue with greater vigour?

The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right. That is why the Home Office has ring-fenced £28 million—so that we have those specialist services in place and so that those victims are able to access as much support as we can possibly give them, not just in terms of health and social services but being able to provide accommodation and all the other things that they require if they want to move from the communities that are imposing FGM on them.

My Lords, did my noble friend see the excellent report on “Newsnight” last night on this barbaric practice in Egypt? I was shocked to learn that 90 per cent of women, both Christian and Muslim, are subjected to this awful custom. Is she aware whether the schools in this country are playing their role? Some groups who campaign on the ground and work with young women and their families tell me that the Department for Education says that it does not collate any information that would help in this matter and that it is not really a problem, but schools know when girls are taken out of the country to have this procedure performed.

Working, yes. However, I did hear about the programme this morning and people have said how appalled they were by what they saw. The noble Baroness asked about schools. Some 80,000 leaflets and posters have been distributed among schools and healthcare services. But the noble Baroness is absolutely right: we need to do a lot more.