Why has Scotland fallen behind England in tackling FGM?

Why has Scotland fallen behind England in tackling FGM?

by Liam Kerr
article from Friday 25, August, 2017

FEMALE Genital Mutilation, commonly known as FGM, is a barbaric practice. We cannot allow political or cultural sensitivities to mask that simple fact. Nor can we allow them to get in the way of eradicating this terrible form of child abuse.

We on the Scottish Conservative benches are unequivocal and resolute in our stance: the Scottish Government can and must do more, and without delay. We must do everything we can to ensure that there are robust measures in place to prosecute those who practice FGM. But, more importantly, we must do everything in our power to prevent this heinous act from taking place in the first place.

FGM is the collective term for a range of brutal procedures involving the removal or alteration of healthy female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is legally defined in the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. I do not propose to detail the sheer horror of this practice further here but commend this article
by Brian Monteith in the Scotsman for its analysis.

FGM has been explicitly illegal in the UK since 1985. In 2005 the law was modernised with the maximum penalty for FGM revised from 5 to 14 years. It also became illegal in Scots law for British nationals or UK residents to perform FGM overseas or make girls undergo FGM.

The UK Parliament then passed the Serious Crime Act 2015 that extended the reach of previous legislation to include habitual (as well as permanent) UK residents.

And yet despite best intentions, there is still so much to be done.

A recent report estimated that around 170,000 women and girls in the UK have undergone FGM. The study was conducted using the most recent census data, and distressingly added that ‘it is believed that the true number of those who have undergone FGM is likely to be much higher, since only a small fraction of victims seek medical help’.

In 2015, England & Wales introduced a ‘mandatory reporting duty’ which places regulated health and social care professionals and teachers under a legal duty to report known cases of FGM in under 18-year-olds to the police. Since they brought in mandatory reporting, data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre for the year July 2015-2016 showed that there were 5,702 newly recorded cases. Most of the women and girls were born in Africa and underwent the procedure there however, 43 of the girls were born in the UK and 18 of those had FGM here in the UK.

Here in Scotland the Government decided not to introduce such a measure, which could help us assess the scale of the problem. It is also critical, if we are to progress to a position of stopping girls being cut in the first place, rather than simply reacting when it does take place. It is deeply concerning that Scotland does not appear to be treating FGM as seriously as the rest of the UK.

And this isn’t the only area where Scotland is falling behind. The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a number of other measures that do not apply in Scotland:

o   FGM Protection Orders, which can prevent a person at risk from being taken abroad for FGM by surrendering their passport. Breaching an Order can warrant up to five years in prison;

o   Lifelong anonymity for victims of FGM;

o   A criminal offence to prosecute parents/guardians who fail to protect their daughter; and

o   Statutory guidance on FGM for professionals who are best placed to stop and report it.

In 2016 the Scottish Government produced a national action plan on FGM, aligned with its ‘equally safe’ strategy to end violence against women and girls. Whilst I commend the initiative, it basically boils down to raising awareness with letters and presentations, alongside non-binding guidance for children’s services and internal guidance for Police Scotland.

The fact remains that Scottish courts are unable to order that passports be surrendered so that at-risk girls are not taken abroad to be cut.

And it is not a criminal offence in Scotland for a parent who knows their daughter is at risk to take no action to protect their child.

A debate on FGM and other so-called ‘honour-based’ violence took place in the Scottish Parliament in February 2017 that was appropriately respectful and consensual. Scottish Conservative MSPs called for the provisions of the 2015 Act to be replicated in Scotland. However, the Cabinet Secretary for Equalities said ‘we are giving all the provisions in the 2015 Act full and serious consideration but, for the sake of transparency, it is important to highlight to Parliament that we are struggling with one or two of them.’

Nothing has been publicly heard since. This is disappointing because this terrible crime cannot be allowed to continue any longer.

It is easy to see where more could be done to stamp out this dreadful abuse. Tougher legislation, a mandatory reporting duty, and anonymity for victims have been implemented south of the border. It is time for the Scottish Government to get serious about tackling FGM in Scotland.

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