The government is to amend the law making FGM illegal to include the prosecution of those who are not UK nationals. The Queen’s speech on Wednesday, stated an intention to protect vulnerable children, including those who have been subjected to or are at risk of FGM.
The new law, which previously only brought UK nationals who committed FGM to justice, will be updated to include habitual UK residents. This change has come after a few cases were highlighted involving those who could not be taken to court as they were not permanent residents in the UK.
The new law will also make it illegal for both UK nationals and habitual residents to assist those committing FGM abroad. Those found guilty will be given a maximum sentence of 14 years, a dramatic increase from the previous maximum sentence of 5 years.
Justice Minister Damian Green said:
“The Government is committed to tackling and preventing the harmful and unacceptable practice of female genital mutilation.
“This is why we plan to extend the extra-territorial offences in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, so that they cover habitual as well as permanent UK residents involved in offences of FGM committed abroad.
“Legislation alone cannot eradicate this terrible practice. But it is important that we change the law where necessary.”
While the new laws will go some way in preventing FGM, it is still up to families and communities to stand up for young girls at risk of FGM. Only cases which have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Services by the police can be taken to court. Many cases of FGM go unreported, for reasons including “cultural taboo, a lack of information from affected communities, and the age and vulnerability of the girls and women which prevent them from coming forward to report offences or to give evidence in court.”
The announcement comes after the launch of a new campaign headed by home secretary Theresa May, which encourages mothers and carers who suspect someone in their community are at risk of FGM to call the NSPCC’s help line (0800 028 3550) anonymously. They can also ask for help if their own child is at risk of FGM.
Posters will be displayed in 17 London boroughs and 7 cities across the country and will target Nigerian, Kenyan and Somali communities where FGM is reported to be prevalent.
Additional online advertising will target mothers on facebook and netmums, directing them to the NSPCC’s website, and will also target doctors, teachers and midwives, who also play a role in preventing and reporting FGM.
Educational resources, including factsheets and a DVD have also been made available.
During her announcement of the campaign Theresa May stated:
“FGM is illegal and it is child abuse.
“The government is absolutely committed to tackling and preventing this harmful practice in order to safeguard and protect all girls and women who may be at risk. It often results in severe consequences for their physical and mental health and we must do everything we can to eradicate it for good.
“This campaign builds on an intense effort underway across government. We understand better than ever before the prevalence and distribution of what is often a hidden crime and we are determined to see perpetrators brought to account in court.”
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said:
“We need a complete cultural change on FGM and we are working to support communities to abandon the practice themselves.
“Mothers have the power to stop this happening to their daughters and the next generation. Through our new campaign we want them – as well as anyone else who is concerned – to contact the NSPCC FGM helpline if they believe their daughter or a girl they know is at risk.
“Political or cultural sensitivities must not get in the way of preventing and uncovering this terrible form of abuse. The law in this country applies to absolutely everyone.”
66,000 women in the UK have been subjected to FGM, and an estimated 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are still at risk.