Public awareness of the barbaric and illegal practice of FGM has increased over recent months and years. Despite significant progress in strengthening anti-FGM laws since it first became illegal in this country in 1985, the first successful prosecution for the offence of FGM, only occurred in January of this year.
Over the course of the last few weeks, in my capacity as Justice Minister, I have supported the passage of a Bill to give judges and local authorities greater power to prevent FGM.
This Bill will correct a gap in the Children’s Act of 1989 which allows courts to make an interim care order and instruct a local authority to intervene and share parental responsibility for a child who is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. Whereas, to date, the Act has only covered children at risk of molestation, violence or a forced marriage, it will now, thanks to this Bill, also cover children believed to be at risk of FGM.
There are “no benefits” to FGM, according to the World Health Organisation, “only harm.” The consequences of FGM are irreversible. They can have a severe and devastating impact that last a lifetime. It is estimated that around the world at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM. In England and Wales, the figure is believed to be approximately 137,000 although the true number of women and girls affected is difficult to ascertain, given the secrecy around the practice.
Amending the law will not completely stop FGM, but it is a step in the right direction. It will ensure that our courts have the additional tools to safeguard victims and those at risk.
In addition to strengthening our laws, we need better education. Young girls and boys must grow up knowing that FGM is wrong and I am very pleased that the Department for Education is introducing education on the issue of female genital mutilation in schools.
Another vital step is encouraging those who have suffered or who know that FGM is going on in their communities to speak up and take action. The impact of the work of Nimco Ali, the co-founder of the anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve and a FGM survivor herself is significant. Nimco, and others like her, who find the courage to speak out make all the difference.
FGM has no place in a modern society such as ours. Together, we need to send out the strongest message possible that, as a society, we are completely against FGM.
This is the second Bill that I had been involved with where the bill has had cross-party support. The first was the upskirting Bill which received royal assent a few weeks ago. These Bills reflect the Houses of Parliament at their finest, working in a cross-party, consensual way to identify harmful issues and plug significant gaps in the law. I am privileged to be part of this very important measure.