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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 744: debated on Monday 22 April 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have on the number of instances of female genital mutilation carried out in the United Kingdom in the past 10 years.

My Lords, the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK is difficult to establish because of the hidden nature of the crime. However, the Government are absolutely committed to tackling FGM and protecting the 20,000 girls who a 2007 study estimated were at high risk of being subjected to FGM in England and Wales each year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his sympathetic reply. Is he aware that in 1983 I supported a Bill outlawing female genital mutilation in this country, which was strengthened by further legislation in 2003, but that according to research currently as many as 65,000 women living in this country have suffered FGM? It is feared that some may have undergone the procedure here and others sent abroad for the practice, but there has not been a single prosecution. Therefore, what effective provisions are being undertaken urgently to protect the estimated 30,000 girls currently at risk in this country?

I congratulate and thank the noble Baroness for her support in tackling this abhorrent form of abuse. The law alone cannot eliminate this practice, as I think noble Lords will agree, but it needs to be properly enforced, of course. The Government welcome the CPS action plan to address barriers to securing a prosecution. They have also funded some front-line organisations to encourage communities to abandon the practice themselves, issued multi-agency guidelines to support front-line professionals and published a statement opposing FGM.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the 1980s, when I was president of the General Medical Council, that council decreed that any doctor registered with the GMC who was found to have carried out the operation of female genital mutilation would be subject to the full disciplinary procedures of the GMC and would be accused of serious professional misconduct? Just as there have been no convictions, as far as I am aware there have been no references to the GMC of doctors accused of carrying out this procedure. How can that be explained?

It is difficult to explain except in terms of the very secretive nature of this crime and the unwillingness of victims to come forward. The noble Lord has rightly pointed to the key role that health and social services can play in providing support for communities in seeking to rid this country of this abuse.

My Lords, some months ago the Director of Public Prosecutions undertook to appoint a committee to produce a report on female genital mutilation, in all its aspects, in the United Kingdom and to publish it in the summer. May we know when that report is likely to appear because, as has been mentioned, there has never been a prosecution and the practice continues as it has done for about 25 years? Is it not time that we had this report so that we could look forward to something being done to put an end to this horrible practice?

I am sure that I reflect the sentiment of the whole House in thanking the noble Baroness for her interest in this matter and her engagement with it. The Government are not happy with a situation in which there have been no prosecutions. We are pleased that the Director of Public Prosecutions is engaging with that. We are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and we hope that the report of which the noble Baroness speaks will be made public and that we can build our strategy on it.

My Lords, this was the first work that I had to do when I held the office that the Minister holds today. When I tried to talk about this subject to the people involved, they said, “If you try to stop us, we’ll do it on the kitchen table”. Am I right in thinking that this kind of thought still exists among the people who wish to continue this horrible practice?

We know that there are some strong feelings on this issue. Indeed, yesterday there was a report of a campaigner being abused by people who disagreed with her. This is not an easy subject. It is a hearts and minds issue, so we have to influence these communities and encourage them to recognise that there is no religious or medical basis for this abuse of young people and it should stop. I can assure the House that the Government take it very seriously.

I am pleased to hear how seriously the Government take this issue. How much funding are they initiating in order to train teachers, nurses, health workers and carers to recognise when there is a possibility of FGM happening and when it has taken place? Also, how is that funding being distributed across the country? I declare an interest as the president of FORWARD.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her involvement with FORWARD, which presented a key report that identified the 66,000 possible victims of this abuse. The amount of money spent is within individual department budgets, but there is a specific £50,000 budget dedicated to ensuring that this matter is fed across departments and that leaflets are produced. The Government are spending £35 million in countries where this practice is prevalent, in seeking to change the cultural background against which the abuse occurs.

On that very point, my noble friend is possibly aware that, since 1997, DfID-supported anti-FGM education and empowerment programmes have led to some 5,500 communities in Senegal abandoning FGM. What discussions is the Minister’s department having with DfID to establish the impact of the success of those programmes on British African communities in the UK, particularly with regard to Somalia, where 98% of young girls are still mutilated, placing thousands of Somali girls in this country at risk?

My noble friend has identified Somalia as a particular area of concern. We are working very closely across all government departments. I think it is clear to noble Lords that the only way we can achieve progress is by using all the levers available to us: government departments; communities; and, through DfID, the overseas cultural base of this practice.