Health professionals in England recorded over 5,500 cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in 2016 – but there were no prosecutions.
Politico reports the total number of attendances at NHS hospitals and GP surgeries related to FGM were well in excess of the number of individual cases, at over 16,000. This casts doubt on the assertion of apologists for the practice, such as Russian mufti Ismail Berdiyev, that it is medically “harmless”.
Female Genital Mutilation, also known as “female circumcision”, refers to a number of controversial cultural practices thought to have originated in traditional African societies. These involve the removal of the clitoris and sometimes the labia of young girls, generally with crude implements and without anaesthetic. It is intended to reduce or eliminate their capacity for sexual pleasure, supposedly curbing the temptation to commit adultery.
FGM is most often associated with African Muslims, although it is not exclusive to them. It is extremely prevalent in some Muslim-majority countries in Asia, such as Indonesia, where the practice is strongly supported by the Indonesian Ulema Council – the country’s highest Islamic clerical authority – and girls are mutilated en masse in large-scale annual ceremonies.
Islamic teachings on FGM vary by country and by religious school. Only the Shafi’i school considers it obligatory; though most others have considered it honourable or preferred historically.
FGM was banned in the UK in 1985 but is becoming increasingly common. The lack of prosecutions in 2016 is not an anomaly: there has not been a single successful prosecution for FGM since it was outlawed, and only one attempted prosecution is known.
A recent tweet by West Midlands Police may point to the reason why: asked by a user why there had been no FGM prosecutions, considering how easy it should be to track down victims’ parents, the force responded that “educating and safeguarding vulnerable girls is the focus. Prosecuting/jailing parents unlikely to benefit [the] child.”
The tweet was deleted following a furious online reaction, with users expressing shock the force was, in effect, allowing child abuse to go unpunished.
Chief Constable Dave Thompson and the ‘Sentinel’ team which specialises in FGM eventually responded that the offence would be prosecuted “if doing so is in the victims’ best interests”.
However, a Freedom of Information response from November 2016 indicates the force logged 377 “non-crime incidents” with an FGM “special interest marker” between 2009 to 2016, but only attempted to issue charges twice: once in 2014 and once in 2016.
These statistics would seem to indicate the force almost never concludes that prosecution would be “in the victim’s best interests” – despite Chief Constable Thompson acknowledging the crime is “an abhorrent criminal offence”.
1/3 Re tweets re #FGM. To be clear it is an abhorrent criminal offence and we will take all steps to prosecute anyone who offends.
— Dave Thompson (@DaveThompsonCC) February 27, 2017
— Jack Montgomery (@JackBMontgomery) February 27, 2017
Labour’s David Jamieson, the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the area, appeared to close ranks with the force rather than take it to task, retweeting the Chief Constable’s exculpatory statements.
A lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, shocked students last year when she claimed FGM was a legitimate response to “colonialism”.
“The argument becomes ‘look, we’ll do all this, we will reform the condition of our women, but we’ll do it once we’ve got independence. It is not for the colonisers to tell us how we should be treating our women’,” she said.