In Depth

Women with vaginal piercings 'victims of female genital mutilation'

The Department of Health has been accused of 'undermining' real abuse with its new guidelines on FGM


Women with vaginal piercings will now be classed as victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) under new government rules.


Even if an adult has consented to the piercing, she will be viewed as having undergone a "harmful procedure to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes".


The rules follow guidance from the World Health Organization and will come into effect in the UK next month, but they have been met with fierce criticism from campaigners and the piercing industry.


Body is piercing is "in no way related" to FGM, the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union told the BBC.


"It undermines the serious nature of FGM to in any way compare it to a consensual body piercing. FGM is often carried out on minors by force and clearly without consent," said spokesperson Marcus Henderson.


Campaigners also argue that forcing the NHS to record consensual piercings as abuse will make it even harder for the government to deal with the problem of FGM. 


"All that a ludicrous move like this will do is swamp the statistics relating to FGM offences, immediately masking, burying, hiding or diluting the true picture of such a horrific crime," writes one police blogger.


The Department of Health has defended the move, saying "the WHO has quite rightly defined this as a form of FGM," according to the Daily Telegraph.


"While there are challenges in this area and adult women may have genital piercings, in some communities girls are forced to have them," a spokesperson said.


The decision comes as MPs also call for "designer vagina" surgeries to be classed as FGM. They want labiaplasties – where a woman's labia are surgically altered for aesthetic reasons – to become a criminal offence in the UK.


"We cannot tell communities in Sierra Leone and Somalia to stop a practice which is freely permitted on Harley Street," a home affairs select committee report said.

Image courtesy of Tim Bartell


Prosecutors face criticism for 'ludicrous' landmark FGM trial

5 February 

Britain's first ever trial for female genital mutilation has resulted in fierce criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service for showing a "lack of judgment".

A jury at Southwark Crown Court took less than 30 minutes to acquit Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, from London's Whittington Hospital, of subjecting a mother to FGM after delivering her baby in November 2012. His colleague Hasan Mohammed was also cleared of aiding and abetting.

The prosecution accused Dharmasena of effectively repeating the mutilation that his patient had suffered as a young girl in her native Somalia.

Dharmasena told the court that he "regarded FGM as an abhorrent practice" and had been trying to stop the woman from bleeding following an emergency delivery. He said he believed he was acting in her best medical interests and she had asked him to stitch her back up. In summing up, Mr Justice Sweeney said that Dharmasena had also saved the life of the woman's baby.

The Times says the CPS showed "incompetence" in its "eagerness" to prosecute a doctor for the practice.

"FGM is a moral abomination and an attack on women's welfare," it said. "A civilised society needs to counter it with resolution and with intelligence. On that latter requirement, the CPS has failed, and at the first hurdle."

Dr Katrina Erskine, a consultant who works with women who have suffered FGM, told The Guardian that the prosecution had taken away her faith in British justice.

"It is ludicrous to conflate anything a doctor or midwife may do at the time of delivery to a woman who has already suffered FGM with FGM itself, and it is insulting to women who have actually suffered FGM," she said.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, told BBC Radio 4 that there was enough evidence for the case to go to court and pointed out that a judge had agreed the evidence should be heard, despite attempts by the defence to throw out the case.

Failure to tackle FGM is a 'national scandal', say MPs

3 July 2014

A report by MPs has labeled the failure to stop the practice of female genital mutilation a "national scandal". 

It says previous governments, the Crown Prosecution Service, police and the health and education sectors should all share the responsibility for this failure.

The cross-party Commons home affairs select committee heard from victims of FGM, health and social workers, police and lawyers before compiling the report.

The report criticises the police and the Crown prosecution service for being "far too passive in their approach by waiting for survivors to come forward and report [FGM]".  

MPs also said that healthcare professionals were failing to report cases to the authorities and that the education sector needed to "overcome the awkwardness" of dealing with issues around FGM.

Measures to combat the practice were suggested in the report and include the use of protection orders for at-risk girls, better services for survivors and anonymity for victims. The report also suggested that the failure to report acts of FGM should be made a criminal offence in the UK.

Campaigners say FGM is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse in the country, with over 170,000 victims living in the UK, according to the BBC. It is estimated that a further 65,000 girls under the age of 13 are at risk of the practice.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but the first prosecution only took place this year.

The report has been described as a significant milestone for the campaign to stop the practice. 

"The proposals are far-reaching and will need to be worked through, but the recognition that all agencies have a responsibility for FGM prevention and reporting is significant," Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, told The Guardian.

"But while prosecutions after the event send a very important message, education and training to prevent FGM in the first place is better," he added.

British girls 'most at risk' from female genital mutilation

7 March 2013

More young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain than any other country in Europe, according to new figures reported in the Evening Standard.

There are 30,000 girls in the UK currently in danger of the practice, in which a girl will have part or all of her external genitalia removed without anaesthesia. In some cases the clitoris, external labia and internal labia are all cut off with a knife, razor or scissors, while the vagina is stitched up, leading to medical problems such as infertility in later life.

Figures from the European Institute for Gender Equality study show 6,500 of the girls live in London, with the majority aged between four and 15. Girls are mostly taken abroad, usually to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to undergo the practice. Police at airports are under orders to look out for likely victims.

The figures were revealed on the same day that the government announced it would invest £35 million over the next five years as part of plans to eradicate FGM worldwide. Campaigners heralded the "massive" spend and International Development minister Lynne Featherstone, who is heading up the initiative, told Channel 4 News she wanted to make FGM as outdated as "Chinese foot binding" within a decade.

Activist Nimco Ali, who co-founded grassroots anti-FGM organisation Daughters of Eve, told Channel 4 news it was "a great thing that the subject is on the table". But Ali warned that the practice may not be eradicated in a generation - "it's not like malaria, that's not how it works".

Her fellow Daughters of Eve campaigner Leyla Hussein told the New Statesman that she was concerned the current momentum behind the issue could soon get "lost" due to cutbacks. "I'm so scared that with all of the cuts happening at the moment, that organisations working with women and children on this will close down. I feel so worried that in the next five to ten years, FGM will get lost in the air again."


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