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UK launches action plan on female genital mutilation

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 23 Nov 2012 14:38 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) - Britain’s chief prosecutor has launched an action plan to tackle the country’s failure to try anyone for the crime of female genital mutilation (FGM), even though it was outlawed nearly 30 years ago.

The government says around 24,000 girls living in Britain are thought to be at risk of FGM – a practice that can cause serious physical and psychological problems.

“It’s critical that everything possible is done to ensure we bring the people who commit these offences against young girls and women to justice and this action plan is a major step in the right direction,” said Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer.

“I am determined that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) should play a key role in ensuring that the impunity with which these offenders have acted will end.”

The 10-point action plan includes identifying what issues have hindered investigations and prosecutions in the past, examining how other countries have prosecuted FGM cases and considering whether the law needs to be reviewed.

Starmer will also discuss with government ministers what duties medical professionals, social care professionals and teachers have to refer possible FGM cases to the police.

Campaigners against FGM have said Britain is seen as a soft touch and believe one or two prosecutions would have a powerful preventative effect.

France, Kenya and Burkina Faso are among countries that have secured convictions in FGM cases.

In Britain, FGM is practiced by communities originating from countries including Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt and Sierra Leone. In its most extreme form, all external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is closed.

Parents say it is an important rite that gives their daughter social status and is the gateway to marriage. Many also believe it is a religious requirement.

HURDLES

A major problem for police and prosecutors is that it is very unlikely a girl will report her parents to the police for carrying out FGM or be willing to testify against them in court. It is also hard to gather evidence for offences carried out a long time ago or abroad.

The police have only referred three cases to the prosecution service, but none of them could go to court because of evidence problems.

Unusually, the CPS will begin working closely with police on all cases of FGM from the start of investigations. Normally, the police refer a case to the CPS once they believe they have appropriate evidence for a trial.

Legal experts will also explore whether FGM offences could be prosecuted under legislation other than the FGM act.

In particular, they may consider whether parents could be prosecuted for allowing a child to suffer physical harm, which is an offence under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act.

The plan, announced on Friday, has been agreed between prosecutors, police, government departments, child protection specialists and medical professionals.

FGM was first made illegal in 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 also made it an offence to take a girl abroad for FGM or to procure the carrying out of FGM abroad.

See also: FGM: “It’s not culture, it’s child abuse” - a package of stories and videos on FGM

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