The news that parents who knowingly allow their daughters to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) will face prosecution has been praised by a Manchester MP.
Politicians, support groups and police measures are part of a £1.4million prevention package unveiled by the Prime Minister David Cameron at the inaugural Girl Summit.
The summit is a conference organised by the UK Government and children’s charity UNICEF with the aim of eradicating forced or underage marriage and female genital mutilation.
MP for Withington John Leech said: “I have always defended fundamental human rights and believe this practice must be stopped as soon as possible. I condemn FGM and I will continue working in order to stop girls in the UK and across the world from being mutilated.
“Lib Dem International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone has worked tirelessly on this issue spreading awareness throughout the world and the announcement today is taking a big step towards breaking the taboo on FGM and ending it within a generation.”
Calling FGM ‘abhorrent’ in a speech before 500 international delegates, including FGM victims and heads of state, Cameron said that such practices ‘violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK’.
Female genital mutilation, otherwise known as female circumcision, is typically carried out on girls aged between five and 15 by women who are not medically trained using basic instruments such as knives and shards of glass.
Unsanitary conditions and unsterilised tools can lead to infections, haemorrhaging and, in the long run, problems with urinating, having sex, conceiving and childbirth.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, yet as many as 137,000 women in the UK are estimated to have been victims of the practice.
The GM Female Genital Mutilation Forum is a Greater Manchester group which offers support for young girls and women.
It aims to prevent FGM, as well as to provide for and protect women and girls across the city.
Group Chair Jaria Hussain-Lala said: “Some parents welcome the move as it provides them with a ‘protective shield’ against pressure they may feel under from their extended family and community.
“Very often the parents themselves are not in favour of the practice but feel they have to put their daughters through it in order to be fully accepted and meet marriage eligibility.”
Immigrants from countries where FGM is practised are a particular cause of concern in the UK. Ensuring that communities know that FGM is a crime is crucial in deterring those considering the practice for their child.
BATTLING FGM: David Cameron addresses campaigners at the event (©maxammedxxx via Youtube with thanks)
Although strides have been made with the government’s latest attempt to stamp out the practice, Jaria believes more inroads must be made to communicate this firm stance to those who are not getting the message.
She said: “Some parents are asking that the message around the illegality of FGM is communicated more widely to affected communities as they feel there is a lack of awareness around this, and that the approach from public services in dealing with FGM is handled sensitively, both of which we would support.”
FGM is particularly widespread in some African countries, affecting over 90% of women in Egypt, Dijbouti and Somalia.
Families may arrange for the practice to be carried out here in the UK, or often by taking their child to their country of origin to undergo the procedure.
The school summer break is a time of particular risk for many girls and many are taken in the first part of the holiday so they can recover from the procedure before returning to the UK.
To tackle this scenario, Greater Manchester Police held a week-long operation which started on Monday July 14 and was supported by Manchester Airport and the UK Border Force.
Specialist officers patrolled check-in desks at the airport to spot any families that might have been taking their children to home countries to undergo the illegal procedure.
Detective Chief Superintendent Vanessa Jardine of Greater Manchester Police, said: “FGM is a crime and GMP along with our partners operates a zero tolerance approach to it.
“We hope that by engaging with passengers travelling to countries where FGM is practised, we can raise awareness about both the health and legal implications of the act.”
She added: “We know that there is no religious basis to this process and want children who are being taken to these countries to understand that support is available should they want to speak up at any time.”
Images courtesy of the Department for International Development, with thanks