Today, the Prime Minister will announce harsher measures against female genital mutilation (FGM) at a global summit with Unicef in London, called the Girl Summit. The new rules he will announce include a change to the law so that parents are responsible for protecting their daughters from cutting and face prosecution if they fail to protect them, and will also grant victims lifelong anonymity.
David Cameron will also introduce a £1.4m prevention programme, which is intended to help stop the practice and to help the NHS care for victims. Additionally, he is expected to announce new guidance for police on how to handle cases of FGM.
Speaking before the summit, Cameron said:
All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage, or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK.
What is notable about these measures is that the PM is thinking about what Britain can do nationally to stamp out the practice here – where more than 137,000 women in England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM, according to a recent study – rather than separating it as an international development issue.
Proper punishments for parents who subject their daughters to such treatment, or at least neglect to stop it happening, have been a long time coming. The last big change to legislation in this country regarding FGM was in 2003. This was when David Blunkett as Home Secretary backed a Bill that became the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which built on the provisions of the 1985 Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, giving powers beyond the UK’s borders (preventing people taking young girls abroad for them to be cut), and increasing the maximum penalty from five to 14 years’ imprisonment.
However, the first person in Britain to be successfully charged using this legislation was a doctor in March this year.
The new laws Cameron will unveil are only just coming about, and progress on legislating on this subject has been relatively slow, because the government and authorities have hitherto feared being culturally insensitive or incendiary by concentrating on stopping FGM being carried out in this country. It seems they are now waking up to a practice that is brutal and unacceptable, and one that is all too prevalent in Britain, as well as globally.