Female genital mutilation: abuse unchecked Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.FGM is not a religious or cultural rite of passage that deserves protection. When it is inflicted on a woman, it is a horrific crime. When it is inflicted on a girl, it is violent child abuse. It involves young girls’ genitalia being cut with scissors, a razor, a knife or even glass, usually with no anaesthetic or antiseptic. It causes severe physical and psychological pain and leaves survivors with lifelong health consequences. Everyone involved in protecting children needs to be aware of, and prevent, this specific form of abuse. This responsibility also extends to the wider community and to all professionals whose roles bring them into contact with children. (Paragraph 12)

Measuring the problem

2.Some progress has been made in the collection of data on FGM. However, the Government must adopt a more sophisticated, data-driven approach to eradicating it. It is a hidden crime and the first step towards tackling it effectively is to measure it properly. Only then can resources be allocated accordingly. In the UK, despite the publicity surrounding the Government’s Summit on FGM in 2015, there is still a paucity of information on the scale of FGM, on its trends over time and on the number of girls at risk. There have been a small number of statistical analyses and data-gathering exercises but they have been conducted in isolation and without reference to a national strategy. As a result the statistics lack the necessary degree of utility to safeguarding and law enforcement agencies. (Paragraph 17)

3.We recommend that the Home Office identify a more reliable methodology for measuring the number of girls at risk of undergoing FGM in the UK. This approach would be best served by engaging directly with women and families affected by FGM, for example through the use of anonymised surveys of a statistically meaningful number of women in families from practising countries. Research should also seek to ascertain attitudes towards FGM, including motivations for continuing to use the procedure, and awareness of the law prohibiting it. It should also be used as an opportunity to learn exactly where in practising countries women had their FGM carried out. Such information would enrich the international intelligence picture, including for UK Border Force staff in their work to prevent girls from being taken abroad to undergo FGM. (Paragraph 18)

4.Since 2015, there has been a requirement on clinicians to record and report FGM cases which they identify as part of clinical examinations. While we agree that they are best placed to help to measure this appalling crime, we are not convinced that the present standard of recording meets the Home Office’s expectation that it will lead to a “better understanding of the scale of the crime taking place”. The most conspicuous weakness in the data is its incompleteness which makes it difficult to use to set benchmarks against which trends can be measured. We are alarmed by reports that some clinicians are ignoring the requirement to record data on the basis that they do not recognise its purpose. We expect NHS employers and the Royal Colleges to take a hard line against such attitudes and call for the Department of Health to write to frontline clinicians to remind them of the duty, and the purpose of mandatory recording, and to reissue guidance. In areas where recording is far below expectations, training on the harm resulting from FGM, the importance of fulfilling the duty to record FGM incidence and dealing with affected women should be commissioned. (Paragraph 24)

Safeguarding girls

5.The multi-agency approach to tackling FGM has been hampered by the absence of a central authority to co-ordinate expertise, manage resources and adjust strategy when it is found to be failing. We recommend that this is addressed through the FGM Unit, hosted by the Home Office, being given the remit, powers and budget to become the sole source of Government policy for safeguarding at-risk girls and eradicating FGM. The Unit should be a joint enterprise between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education in the same way that the Forced Marriage Unit is a joint enterprise between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Linking the expertise and resources of those Departments, and ensuring that they liaise fully with responsible authorities in the devolved governments, will ensure the greatest chance of successfully meeting the Government’s ambition to eradicate FGM within a generation. (Paragraph 27)

6.Without a powerful, central co-ordinator, we are concerned that finite resources to fight FGM will not be as well-targeted or used as efficiently as they should be. A single reporting and safeguarding system would be the best approach to removing some of the institutional barriers that presently prevent effective safeguarding and would be a suitable project for a redefined FGM Unit. (Paragraph 28)

7.It is likely that routine medical examinations of children under age six in France have resulted in a large number of successful prosecutions in relation to FGM and contribute to the safeguarding of vulnerable girls. This would be a radical change in practice in the UK and there is a strong case for its implementation in this country. However, it should be noted that it has been shown that the French system has to some extent deferred the problem by encouraging some parents simply to wait for their daughters to get beyond the usual age range for the routine medical examinations before having them cut. We are also concerned that the examination itself could be unnecessarily traumatic for children. Nevertheless, we believe medical examinations can have a role as a last resort in particularly high-risk cases. As improvements to risk assessment methods continue, there may be a stronger case for a system that requires health professionals to carry out regular medical checks when a girl is identified as being at high risk. (Paragraph 31)

8.While the police and Border Force have taken some steps to improve their ability to detect and prevent girls from being taken out of the UK to undergo FGM in their ‘home’ countries, much more needs to be done. A sophisticated understanding of the regional nature of FGM within practising countries would help the police and Border Force officers to better target and engage with individuals and families who are seen to be at risk of travelling overseas to commit an FGM offence. It would also prevent an overly narrow targeting of flights between the UK and high-prevalence countries which serves to mask the full extent of locations where FGM is practised. We recommend that the FGM Unit immediately form operational links with police and Border Force airside operations, to provide intelligence and guidance on high-risk countries. This intelligence should be informed by the work carried out over the last 25 years by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and NGOs, and information provided by the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office overseas posts. (Paragraph 35)

9.Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education has a key role to play in helping pupils to keep themselves and others safe but successive Governments have failed to provide sufficient leadership on this. We recommend that PSHE education be made compulsory and that it include tackling violence against women and girls, and teaching children about FGM in particularly high-prevalence areas. Such discussions between teachers and pupils would be likely to contribute to increasing the level of reporting and to safeguarding at-risk girls. (Paragraph 38)

10.FGM is a hidden crime, practised in some communities within the UK on a daily basis. There is no doubt about the Government’s willingness to confront this abuse but unless sufficient resources are provided to those groups who work and campaign within the communities where FGM is practised, efforts to prevent it will be in vain. (Paragraph 41)

Prosecuting FGM offences

11.The police rely on professionals in the education, health and social care sectors to identify signs that FGM has taken place. Prosecutions will not be possible if we wait for daughters to report their parents to the police, which is unlikely to happen. On that basis, we believe the Government was right to introduce mandatory reporting. If a health professional, social worker or teacher saw someone who had been the victim of another crime, they would be expected to report it. In the same way, they must report FGM, which is equally a crime. (Paragraph 44)

12.Existing disciplinary procedures for professionals who ignore the duty on mandatory reporting are insufficient and ineffective and it is unacceptable that some clinicians appear to refuse to accept it as their responsibility. The duty to report must not be seen as optional. A decision not to report puts children’s lives at risk and is complicit in a crime being committed. We repeat our predecessor Committee’s recommendation that the Government introduce stronger sanctions for failure to meet the mandatory reporting responsibility, beyond the relevant professions’ own general disciplinary procedures. (Paragraph 45)

13.We were surprised and disappointed that there still appears to be no central Government office collating data on the mandatory reporting of FGM. One way to encourage reporting would be to publish readily available statistics so that those reporting can see the results of their diligence as well as that of their colleagues across the health, social care and education sectors. A centralised system for pooling reports of FGM would also be a positive step and would aid data analysis from which examples of best practice could be drawn. We recommend that the FGM Unit publish quarterly reports showing high-level results, progress in police investigations and examples of best practice that should then be disseminated to all professionals with a mandatory duty to report FGM. Ideally those reports should incorporate the data collated by the Health and Social Care Information Centre to encourage the standard of that data also to be improved. (Paragraph 49)

14.France has an excellent record on securing prosecutions for FGM offences but the UK’s distinct legal tradition makes the adoption of similar practices unlikely and possibly unworkable. We welcome the introduction under the Serious Crime Act 2015 of the new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, which is similar to provisions in French law for prosecuting parents as abetters of the crime. The UK could learn a great deal from identifying the methods used in other countries, particularly France, to support girls who are prepared to give evidence against perpetrators. The Home Office should take steps to investigate additional legislative measures which might be successful in securing more prosecutions and in supporting victims who wish to contribute to legal proceedings, despite the obvious difficulties and conflicts this presents for young women. (Paragraph 55)

15.It is beyond belief that there still has not been a successful prosecution for an FGM offence since it was made illegal over 30 years ago. That is a lamentable record and the failure to identify cases, to prosecute and to achieve convictions can only have negative consequences for those who are brave enough to come forward to highlight this crime. In the absence of successful prosecutions, FGM remains a national scandal that is continuing to result in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls. We welcome the measures that the Government has introduced in recent years to deter parents and others from attempting to inflict FGM on girls and to bring those to justice who succeed in this. When we next review FGM the new laws will have had longer to ‘bed in’ and we will expect to see a number of successful and ongoing prosecutions, in line with other countries in Europe. (Paragraph 56)

16.We recommend that the Government reconvenes its FGM Summit of June 2014 within the next year, to bring together the leaders of other European countries dealing with this problem and those from ‘home’ countries where girls living in the UK are taken in order for FGM to be carried out. The current Prime Minister took action to tackle FGM when she was the Home Secretary and she should take the opportunity to provide global leadership in tackling this form of child abuse. (Paragraph 57)

17.When our predecessors published their report on FGM last year, they were so appalled by the lack of progress that they announced their intention to revisit this matter again. We will continue to draw attention to this horrific crime until prosecutions and convictions are achieved and we are able to turn the tide of violence against girls and women. (Paragraph 58)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

13 September 2016