Female genital mutilation is a term used to describe injury to, or partial or full removal of external female genitalia when it is not medically necessary. FGM violates the right to physical integrity, and health and safety. It is a life-altering, life-threatening act of violence. FGM has been illegal in the U.K. since 1985, but enforcement remains problematic.
Female Genital Mutilation and the Law
In the U.K., FGM has been a criminal act since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act of 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003 closed a loophole that allowed girls to be taken abroad for FGM.
The act covers the following offences:
· to excise, infibulate, or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a girl's labia majora, labia minora or clitoris;
· to aid, abet, counsel or procure a girl to excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of her own labia majora, labia minora or clitoris;
· to aid, abet, counsel or procure the performance outside the UK of a relevant FGM operation.
Exceptions are made for medical personal who deem the operation necessary, but only for health reasons. Penalties range from fines to 14 years in prison.
Enforcement of Female Genital Mutilation Act
Although there has been progress since 1985, enforcement remains inadequate. Girls who undergo FGM are usually under age 18, and are frequently victims of other crimes, including sexual offences and forced marriage. Young girls who fear retaliation are reluctant to cooperate with prosecutors. Teachers and school administrators have a hard time detecting cases of FGM, since it often occurs before a girl enters the school system.
Due to the secrecy involved, the crime is under reported and statistics are lacking. The Department of Health estimates that 80,000 girls and women in the U.K. are at risk of FGM.
Authorities are facing increasing pressure from the public to fully enforce the Act – with or without the cooperation of the victims.
A Victim Speaks Out
Thirty-year-old Aissa Edon was a victim of FGM at the age of six. She tells how two people held her down as another performed the cutting on her and on her one-year-old sister.
"I have a memory of the pain, the blood, my sister shouting and my own shouting because it was so painful. It is like a bad dream but it is in my memory for life," she told The Independent. "I was always in pain for years as I had a problem with my bladder and urinary tract because of the Female Genital Mutilation and I had to have an operation. […] I want to help other ladies. I feel complete but I don't want girls to go through this."