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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 00:03 GMT
Female circumcision clampdown call
Female circumcision
Female circumcision is often carried out with basic instruments
MPs have called for the law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) to be strengthened as part of a clampdown on the practice in the UK.

FGM, also known as female circumcision, is banned in the UK under a 1985 Act.

However, members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health have warned that the law is totally ineffective.

The number of women in the UK who seek medical help after undergoing FGM is growing,

It is clear that that there is a growing problem of FGM in the UK

Christine McCafferty MP
Clinics are treating hundreds of women with FGM related complications.

But there has never been a successful prosecution under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act.

Christine McCafferty, chair of the cross-party group, said FGM was a "violation of human rights".

Ms McCafferty said the government must give support to organisations who were dealing with the issue.

She said: "It is clear that that there is a growing problem of FGM in the UK.

"It is a scandal that there have been no prosecutions under the UK law and that awareness of the law is minimal."

A report by the parliamentary group calls for:

  • A change in the law to ensure that UK residents who take girls abroad to have them circumcised can be prosecuted on their return
  • FGM to be categorised as a form of physical abuse under local authority guidance
  • Health professionals and other relevant authorities to be required under law to report incidents of FGM
  • An information and media campaign targeting specific grassroots community groups
  • Inter-agency research involving the immigration service, refugee councils and health and education departments
The group carried out research among local health and education authorities, social services departments and refugee councils.

Fears of racism

They found just 46% of respondents were aware of current legislation, while 25% expressed a fear of being perceived as racist or culturally insensitive when dealing with FGM issues.

Cultures are only sacred if they are consistent with human rights

Christine McCafferty
Ms McCafferty said: "It is vital that we listen to the leaders of Black Women's Groups and community groups working to eliminate FGM in the UK.

"It is not a question of culture of race. Cultures are only sacred if they are consistent with human rights."

A group which campaigns against FGM has welcomed the government's initiative on the issue but called for more vigilance by the authorities.

The Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD) says the recommendations in the report are unlikely to be effective if not backed up by further action. "We need to be more vigilant and perhaps adopt the system practised in France where children at risk are checked in school," said FORWARD's director, Faith Mwangi-Powell.

FGM involves procedures which include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs, often for cultural reasons.

The procedure is usually performed on girls between the ages of four to 13, but in some cases FGM is performed on babies or young women prior to marriage or pregnancy.

Most of the females affected live in Africa, but numbers are growing in Western Europe, primarily among immigrant or refugee communities.

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23 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Female circumcision
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