The Daily Mail this week featured an article on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The story bore, as its title, the startling statistic that as many as 100,000 women have undergone such surgery in the United Kingdom despite its illegal status. Whilst the offence carries a maximum14-year prison sentence, no successful prosecutions have ever taken place and I feel that this horrific practice fails to attract the media attention it deserves.
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (FGMA) makes it illegal to perform FGM on a UK resident anywhere in the world. FGM is a term used to encompass many procedures, the most severe of which involves the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching of the vaginal opening. The practice is carried out predominantly on women and girls of African or Middle Eastern origin, some whilst still new born babies, and is seen as a vital means of preserving chastity. Whilst it is easy to disregard the issue as one that occurs outside this jurisdiction and of which we can therefore do little about, this is not the case. FGM is an abhorrent crime and up to 100,000 women in the UK have undergone such mutilation. Whilst traditionally carried out in countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, it is becoming much more common in the UK by virtue of immigration, some medical practitioners still prepared to perform this surgery despite its illegal status. Victims rarely receive anaesthetic and often suffer serious long-term damage following FGM and yet not a single conviction has ever been brought. Surely this suggests that the means of enforcing this legislation are not working? I feel that this issue is something that needs to take centre stage more often. It is an increasing problem affecting thousands of women in our country and yet very few of us know anything about it.