Statue of Justice at the Old Bailey. Photo: Wikimedia
Show Hide image

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 Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.