Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985, yet so far there have been no prosecuted cases.
This may be seen as a positive; however, it’s not due to lack of FGM still being practiced. It’s estimated that a case of FGM is either discovered or treated at a medical facility in England every hour. Yet, even when cases are brought to court, they are quickly swept under the rug.
Female Genital Mutilation, also called “FGM” or “cutting,” is classified by the World Health Organization as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
There are four stages of FGM, which vary in degrees of how much of a woman’s genitalia is removed. FGM has no medical or health benefits and has many risks, often leading to complications of pregnancy, scar tissue, or death of the woman or a stillborn child.
This harmful practice seems like something so far removed from U.S. life that it’s shocking to know that it is still being practiced. Especially when it’s estimated that in England and Wales up to 137,000 girls and women are living with FGM and 144,000 girls are at risk of FGM. Some believe that this prevalence has to do with the lack of convictions in the UK, suggesting that legislators are not taking these offenses seriously.
Sarah Champion, the Former Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said that legislation is really just a piece of paper unless it’s embedded in practice. She went on to say that,”Until we get a conviction I don’t think the message is going to go out, loud and plain, that this is child abuse and is unacceptable.”
While the UK seems to have done well in regards to putting purposeful FGM laws into place, these laws have not brought tangible change.
In France, where the laws are broader, there have been 29 trials and 100 convictions in the last three decades, leading people to wonder why the same is not true for Britain, as the two countries are considered socially similar in many ways.
“That’s going to be one in a million for a child to come out and say that. Because at the end of the day, they don’t want their parents to get into trouble,” Hibo Wardere, an FGM campaigner and survivor, said.
This is why many survivors are pushing to move away from prosecution and instead toward education. Wardere believes this is the best way to reduce the practice altogether because many healthcare providers and teachers are sometimes reluctant to report due to accusations of racism or disrespect of cultural practices.
However, Wardere says it’s vital to educate everyone, including those who may choose to practice, to “make people aware that first of all, it may be part of your culture or belief, but you live in a country where this is seen as a child abuse.”
By combining active prosecution and enforcement of existing laws with in-depth education, the UK will hopefully be able to move forward in at least reducing the vast number of girls and young women at risk of this practice and someday eradicate the practice altogether.
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