Teaching about FGM
Dr Kate Cook urges solicitors to be more aware about a practice that has no place in our society
Female genital mutilation is a practice which is traditional in at least 26 cultures worldwide, particularly in those from Africa and Asia. This is an oversimplification, however, as FGM is a term that is used to describe a range of ceremonies which involve the removal, burning, or scraping of the female genitals. These practices are carried out on young girls. All of them are harmful. There are no health benefits (quite the reverse) and there is no major religion which requires or supports FGM.
The nature of this social issue is changing with global migration. It is now known, for example, that there is a sizeable minority of the UK population who have suffered FGM and this, in turn, means there are young girls in the UK who are at risk of mutilation. At Manchester Law School I have the opportunity to teach our undergraduates about the law on FGM and I am always aware that, within the cohort, there could be someone who has first-hand experience of the practice.
In the UK, FGM has been outlawed since 1985, and the laws have been strengthened in more recent times to make it possible for a protective order to be made where a girl is believed to be at risk. Other changes have aimed to make criminal prosecution more achievable, but there have been no successful prosecutions to date. However, one success of all of this activity has been the reporting requirements which allow the authorities to begin working out how many women and girls living in the UK have suffered FGM.
The most widely quoted figure is that there are 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales affected by FGM. This is based on a monitoring exercise carried out by the NHS but may well be an underestimate.
The most recent figures I have come across are from Greater Manchester Police who reported 670 cases of FGM in Greater Manchester in the year to July 2016. This is calculated using data collected under section 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which requires certain professions to report cases where a girl under 18 appears to have suffered FGM. The police also estimate that there are a further 2,000 girls in Greater Manchester who may be at risk.
Clearly, if these figures were extrapolated over the rest of the country, the population who are survivors of FGM is likely to be sizeable and the number of girls at risk quite worrying.
There are a number of excellent groups doing great work with survivors around the country and there is some useful information on the NHS FGM web pages. In all, this is an issue which we understand more clearly now, where the police and the health service are actively engaged in prevention and in support work.
I hope this article encourages those in practice to think about their employees and clients as women who may also be sufferers.
Dr Kate Cook is a senior lecturer in law at Manchester Metropolitan University