Statue of Justice at the Old Bailey. Photo: Wikimedia
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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.

 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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