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Tim Dieppe: FGM in the UK

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Christian Concern's Tim Dieppe comments this week on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, and how it can be tackled. He argues that the police are not taking the practice seriously and that cultural relativism is to blame. 

It is estimated that there are as many as 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM in England and Wales. 

FGM has been in the news again recently as new statistics were released showing that there were nearly 5,500 newly reported cases of FGM in 2016. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female circumcision, involves cutting the clitoris of young girls in order to curb their sexual desires. It is a dangerous and abusive practice, which is painful and traumatic, with lasting physical and mental effects into adulthood.

Prevalence in the UK

The NSPCC cites an estimate that there are 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM in England and Wales. The latest statistics from the NHS show that where the age is known, 44% had FGM carried out when they were aged between 5 and 9 years old. Another 38% were younger than 5 years old. Nearly half of all cases came from the London NHS Commissioning Region.

What the law says

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. The law was strengthened in 2003 to carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. It was further strengthened in 2015 to cover acts done outside the UK by a UK resident. This act also introduced a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, with a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment. Nevertheless, to date no one has been convicted of FGM in the UK.

A new authority to issue a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO) was provided for in the 2015 Act. To date, some 79 FGMPOs have been made to safeguard girls from FGM. Detective Sergeant Pal Singh was the first to secure an FGMPO for the Metropolitan Police. Sadly, the Metropolitan Police have now accused him of gross misconduct after he complained to the press about the Crown Prosecution Service failing to prosecute so-called 'honour crimes'.

Police practice

West Midlands Police appear to be openly defying the will of parliament in this matter by stating that they are against prosecution for FGM. They claim that they have opted to focus on "education and safeguarding of vulnerable girls" rather than seeking prosecution. They appear to be operating a double standard of prosecuting for all other forms of child abuse, but not for FGM. Could this be because they expect lower standards of child abuse by other cultures?

Last week, the police inspector in charge of FGM investigations in London said that the Metropolitan Police do not know where FGM is happening. He said that FGM referrals to his team have increased from 29 a year in 2012, to 20 a month now. He argued that this is the "tip of the iceberg", as FGM is significantly under reported.

Is it Islamic?

FGM is not restricted to Islamic communities, but this is where it is most prevalent. The practice is widespread throughout the Middle East and in many parts of Africa. FGM is not mentioned in the Qur'an, but it is endorsed some hadith. One hadith relates:

"A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband."
(Sunan Au Dawd 5251)

This, though, is regarded as a weak hadith. Some scholars see general references to 'circumcision' in the hadith as referring to both men and women. A more reliable hadith argues that a ritual bath (because of sexual intercourse) is obligatory not only when there is an ejaculation, but also when "the circumcised parts touch each other", thus indicating that both the man and the woman should be circumcised. The classic manual for the Shafi'i school of law, The Reliance of the Traveller, says that "circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female)." Thus, while there is some debate amongst Muslims about whether circumcision is obligatory, there is a strong tradition of viewing it as part of sharia law. Fatwas can be found both ruling that FGM is obligatory or that it is optional. Many traditional Muslims, however, believe that the practice is part of their religion. It has been reported, for example, that ISIS issued a fatwa mandating FGM in Mosul.

An annual inspection?

Campaigner, writer, and former Dutch MP Aayan Hirsi Ali, who was brought up a Muslim and had FGM at age five, argues that an annual visual examination of at-risk girls is the only wat to stop FGM. She says:

"A detection mechanism like this would be the biggest deterrent because when the family says 'Our little girl Fatima or Samira is now five or six, and shouldn't we have her done?' they will know that they can't because in September every year, just as the school holidays end, she will be checked."

"You then need one or two prosecutions to set an example. It is the only model I can think of that will work. As long as there is no systematic control, there is no deterrence."

She says: "What is worse, the cutting itself or the method of detection?", and argues, "Education campaigns do not work. Just talking to mothers and grandmothers about why the practice is harmful is not convincing."

Why have we allowed this to continue?

The numbers of women and girls affected by FGM in the UK are staggering. The fact that there has still not been a single prosecution is shocking. The police seem unwilling to take this seriously. Our cultural relativism ends up condoning gruesome abuse of young girls in our neighbourhoods. It is high time police and the government took this seriously. An annual inspection, as Hirsi Ali recommends, may be the only effective way to root it out.

Related Links:
FGM should not be prosecuted, police force says as it claims best course of action is to 'educate parents' (Telegraph)
England has 5,700 recorded cases of FGM in 2016-2016, figures show (Guardian)
First ever annual statistical publication for FGM shows 5,700 newly recorded cases during 2015-16 (NHS)
Serious Crime Act 2015 (Gov UK)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: 'FGM was done to me at the age of five. Ten years later. Even 20… I would not have testified against my parents' (Evening Standard)
Isis may have issues a fatwa introducing FGM in Mosul – but cutting in the Middle East is not new (Independent)
Fear of seeming racist is enabling female genital mutilation (Spectator)