Campaigners have responded furiously to new NHS rules which come into force next month saying that women who have vaginal piercings are to be classed as victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Health chiefs have said that any woman whose labia or clitoris has been pierced – even if it has been voluntary and legal – must be recorded as suffering from FGM, the Daily Mail reports.
The mandatory reporting regulations were sent to medical staff by the Department of Health which said that such piercings would be classified ‘within an abusive context’.
But campaigners against FGM have said that mixing up cosmetic procedures such as piercing with young girls who have their clitoris and vagina sliced off for cultural reasons undermines the fight against the practice.
The decision has been taken because of World Health Organisation guidelines that the Department of Health wishes to adhere to, which last year classified piercing as ‘harmful procedures’ that are considered to fall into the category of FGM. But it means that those who carry out the piercing could be implicated for committing a criminal offence.
Last week MPs released a report which showed how those who will be on the front line of combating the crime and working with victims remain confused over what falls into the category of cutting, and whether this might include cosmetic surgery, nicknamed ‘designer vaginas’.
Some MPs have said the act needs to be amended to ensure there is no confusion or loss of control over a woman’s own body parts should she wish to adorn her genitals or undergo cosmetic surgery. But the Government has previously said it has no plans to make these changes.
Anti-FGM campaigner Angharad Yeo said she was “angry” about the confusion and the government’s reluctance to clarify the law.
“One is vanity and the other is control methods over women,” she said. “There needs to be clarification, there needs to be a clear understanding and they [MPs and front line care workers] need to act on common sense not this flim flam.”
It is estimated that around 170,000 women and girls are said to be victims of FGM in the UK. More than 2,600 women have been treated by the NHS due to mutilation, with 499 women and girls who are victims of FGM seen in acute NHS trusts in England in January alone.
But despite more than 200 cases relating to FGM being investigated by the police over the last five years, no one has ever been convicted in the UK.
UKIP Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans called the decision “obscene” saying that it was “diverting attention away from the real issue, which is that there are at least one hundred thousand mutilated women and girls in Britain and they focus on voluntary piercings?”
“Clearly no will to tackle this form of abuse any more than they are tackling alleged historic child sex abuse by Parliamentarians,” she said.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “While there are challenges in this area and adult women may have genital piercings, in some communities girls are forced to have them. The World Health Organisation has quite rightly defined this as a form of FGM.
“We are taking every precaution to record genital piercings that have been done within an abusive context.
“The new data collection will help build a picture of the scale and the nature of the problem we are facing. We are continually working on ways to improve and develop the NHS response to this terrible practice.”