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Failure to protect girls from FGM is a "national scandal", say MPs

A hard-hitting report today from the Home Affairs Committee blasts the authorities for failing to eliminate cutting in the UK and calls for new laws.

The failure to prevent the genital mutilation of thousands of girls in the UK has been criticised as a “national scandal” in a damning report published by a parliamentary committee today.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee has set out a national action plan to tackle the barbaric child abuse, demanding that the authorities urgently bring successful prosecutions of cutters.

The report stated that a number of guilty verdicts are needed to prove that female genital mutilation (FGM) is “taken with the utmost seriousness in the UK and will be punished”.

Despite FGM being made illegal in Britain in 1985, not a single prosecution has been achieved; so far only two people have been charged with offence. Both are awaiting trial.

It is estimated that 170,000 women and girls in the UK are living with FGM current and a further 65,000 girls aged under 13 in Britain are at risk of it.

MPs have called for a spate of new laws to be introduced if the risk of FGM to young British girls is not eliminated within the next 12 months.

The possible laws include new protection orders, such as those that were introduced in 2008 for women at risk of forced marriage, in order to place girls at risk under the protection of the courts.

Another would be the creation of a new criminal offence rendering it illegal for doctors to fail to report mutilation.

Following the lead of France, the MPs’ report also considered the introduction of regular medical examinations for girls who are deemed to be at “high risk” of FGM.

In addition it called for victims of FGM to be awarded anonymity to aid prosecution.

The report delivered devastating criticism of ministers, police, doctors, teachers and other officials for failing to stem the savage practice.

It called for greater attention to be paid by all professionals in healthcare, social work and education to protect girls at risk. Training in schools should be strengthened and GPs should be obliged to ask mandatory questions about FGM during patient antenatal medical appointments.

The Royal College of General Practitioners was attacked by MPs for demurring from signing a recent agreement by leading medical organisations to improve their reporting procedure.

The report also calls for better provision of services for women and girls affected by FGM, including refuge shelters for those at risk.

It rebutted the common misconception that FGM is a practice based in religion. It states: “FGM is a severe form of gender-based violence, and where it is carried out on a girl, it is an extreme form of child abuse. Everyone who has a responsibility for safeguarding children must view FGM in this way.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said:

FGM is an ongoing national scandal which is likely to have resulted in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls to whom the state owed a duty of care. Successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors should all share responsibility for the failure in recent years to respond adequately to the growing prevalence of FGM in the UK. We need to act immediately.

“It is unacceptable that those with clear access to evidence of these crimes do nothing to help those at risk. We must follow the example of France and remove any barriers to referral. Conversations and checking must become the norm. In 12 months’ time, if reporting does not increase, we must make a failure to report a criminal offence.

He also paid tribute to the small number of individuals and groups who have “worked tirelessly” to raise awareness of FGM. 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.