LONDON (TrustLaw) - Britain launched an initiative dubbed a “health passport” on Monday that is designed to reduce the number of girls subjected to horrific genital mutilations while visiting family overseas.
From today, parents and girls from communities that practise female genital mutilation (FGM) will be able to carry a government statement in their passports spelling out that British residents can face up to 14 years in jail if they arrange for FGM to be carried out abroad.
The government says up to 24,000 girls in Britain are thought to be at risk of FGM, which it calls a “cruel and brutal practice”. It believes many girls are taken overseas to have the procedure done – often during the long summer holidays.
The Statement Opposing Female Genital Mutilation – an idea copied from the so-called health passport introduced by the Netherlands – is available in numerous languages and designed to be discretely carried in a wallet or slipped into the back of a passport.
The idea is that families can show the document to any relatives abroad who are pressuring them to have FGM carried out on their daughters.
Under British law it is an offence to take a girl abroad for FGM or to procure the carrying out of FGM abroad, even if it is legal in that country.
Campaigners against FGM say the threat of jail and/or a fine could act as a strong deterrent to extended families in countries like Somalia who often rely on money sent by their relatives in Britain.
The document has been signed by Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and four government ministers.
In Britain, FGM is practised 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.
Supporters say it is an important rite that gives girls social status and is a prerequisite to marriage. Many also believe it is a religious requirement although it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
“FGM isn’t culture, it is child abuse,” said Jane Ellison, head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FGM.
“I want to see this statement being tucked inside a girl’s passport – it won’t stop all FGM but it could be invaluable if a parent is in two minds or an older sibling, who may have had it happen to them, is trying to protect a younger sister.
“The message is now clear – a girl from the UK is protected by our laws, home and abroad, and the threat of jail for parents should be enough to keep at bay extended family in the country of origin.”
The initiative comes just days after Starmer announced action to tackle Britain’s failure to prosecute anyone for FGM, which was made illegal in 1985.
Among other things, Britain’s prosecution service will examine how other countries have handled FGM cases and consider whether the law needs to be reviewed.
Earlier this year government officials also travelled to Kenya to train consular staff from countries where FGM is practised about the law and what to look out for.
People can request the FGM statement by emailing the government here.
See also: FGM: “It’s not culture, it’s child abuse” - a package of stories and videos on FGM