FGM: why is the UK failing young girls?Current affairsNewsPolitics & Social issues
According to figures from the Health and Social Information Centre, nearly 4000 girls were treated for female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK since September 2014, with experts predicting that unless existing laws regarding the practice begin to be properly enforced, cases of FGM will continue to rise.
The removal of young girls’ outer genitalia to nullify sexual feeling and desire is still widespread in tribal areas of North Africa and the Middle East and immigration from these areas has seen this cultural abomination become frighteningly common in the UK.
The practice was made a criminal offence in 1985 and in 2003; the Female Genital Mutilations Act also made it illegal for UK nationals to travel abroad to undergo FGM.
Conviction rates for those prepared to commit or facilitate this abhorrent assault on femininity remain outrageously low and is surely one of the main reasons why so many girls living in the UK are still subjected to this terrifying ordeal despite living in a part of the world which celebrates women’s rights.
In fact, only two men have so far been charged under the 2003 FGM Act in the UK and both were found not guilty. The case was a complete red herring as the two men were doctors working in the UK who were helping a victim of FGM give birth – labour for mutilated women is especially difficult and painful due to the severity of the damage done by the procedure.
The inadequately trained doctors mistakenly reapplied the original stitching after the birth was complete, believing this to be the correct procedure to help the victim recover from childbirth. Despite prosecutors claiming their actions were tantamount to performing FGM, the defence argued that the doctors had no desire to maim or harm the victim.
The decision to prosecute the two doctors was severely criticised by many. Dr Katrina Erkshine, Homerton hospital’s head of obstetrics and gynaecology, told The Guardian that the Crown Prosecution Service were wrong to pursue the case and that she had lost faith in the entire criminal justice system for doing so.
It proves that not only has too little been done to punish and deter the real perpetrators of FGM, but that the authorities are prepared to indulge in tokenism to try to food the general public into believing that they are taking active steps to tackle the issue.
Such failures to rigorously uphold existing legislation are explicitly linked to misplaced anxiety in regards to racism; criticising or appearing hostile to differing cultural practices, even those as heinous as FGM, may reflect negatively on one’s character. Many blame cultural relativism – the belief that all cultures are worthy of equal respect and tolerance no matter how barbaric their customs and traditions – for instilling in people a complacency that has allowed FGM in Britain to go largely unchallenged.
Relativism prevents people from stating and acting upon the obvious: that FGM runs contrary to just about every notion of human decency and that those who believe in it are simply not welcome in a civilised society. It also stops the perpetrators from facing the swift and irrevocable justice they deserve.
But rises in FGM cases in Britain have also happened due to the difficulty in gauging whether or not a girl is at risk and the complications that arise once this has been established.
Female genital mutilation was inflicted upon Ayan Hirsi Ali when she was a five-year-old girl growing up in Somalia. She is now a best-selling author and one of the most thoughtful and engaging campaigners against the practice, and fierce critic of Western complacency towards it.
In an interview with the London Evening Standard, she suggests that visual checks of high risk girls by female paediatricians is a controversial but, ultimately, necessary method of protecting young girls from harm. She also states correctly that FGM cannot be solved by condemnation alone but must be accompanied by swift actions that both punish and deter the perpetrators.
It is clear to see that the rise in FGM cases in the UK has come about not only due to authorities’ inadequate response to the problem but also as a result of our failure to stand up for fundamental values. We have so far failed victims by not asserting their rights as human beings to ensure they would not be subjected to gross acts of cruelty in the name of cultural and religious traditions. Only when this situation is drastically reversed will the disturbing growth of FGM cases finally be curbed.