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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Olaniyan

Combating Female Genital Mutilation in the UK: Legal Foundations, Precedents, and Progress

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues to cast a dark shadow over the lives of countless girls and women worldwide. Acknowledging its profound implications, the United Kingdom has taken robust measures to address and eradicate FGM within its borders. This article undertakes a comprehensive exploration of FGM, the UK's legal strategy against FGM, highlighting pivotal legal precedents and illuminating cases to underscore the nation's commitment and success in deterring FGM.


What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), an enduring and disturbing cultural practice, casts a long and harrowing shadow over the lives of countless girls and women around the world.


Historical and Cultural Underpinnings of FGM

FGM's roots reach back through centuries, deeply entrenched in cultural traditions within various parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. This practice has often been regarded as an intrinsic part of cultural identity, perpetuated through generations to uphold community norms and traditions. Seen as a rite of passage, a means of preserving modesty, or a symbol of honour, FGM reflects the intricate interplay of cultural dynamics, social hierarchies, and deeply ingrained gender roles.


Prevalence and Regional Variation

The prevalence of FGM is a grave concern, touching the lives of millions of girls and women worldwide. Its highest concentration is observed in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in countries like Somalia, Guinea, and Egypt. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 200 million females have been subjected to FGM, with countless more at risk. Disturbingly, this practice is not confined to specific regions, as migration and globalization have extended its reach across borders.


Cultural Significance and Complex Justifications

Within societies that practice FGM, its continuation is often rationalized based on deeply ingrained cultural values, social norms, and religious interpretations. Considered a cultural rite of passage, FGM is believed to prepare young girls for adulthood and marriage, aligning with notions of purity and virtue. Communities might justify it as a means of ensuring fidelity, enhancing marriage prospects, or even religious adherence. This act has also been masked as a traditional rite. However, these justifications are scrutinized against the backdrop of human rights violations and the blatant disregard for the physical and emotional well-being of those affected. This practice is also a form of oppression and also falls within the remit of domestic abuse.


Health Implications and Psychological Trauma

FGM is a tragic act. It inflicts severe physical and psychological consequences on its victims, extending far beyond the initial act. Immediate health risks encompass severe pain, haemorrhage, infections, and even death. Long-term complications range from chronic pain, menstrual irregularities, urinary and reproductive system problems, to heightened risks during childbirth. Moreover, the psychological trauma stemming from FGM can manifest in anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and post-traumatic stress disorder, leaving lifelong scars that extend beyond the physical realm.


Legal Responses and Global Collaborations

Recognizing the urgency of addressing FGM, nations and international organizations have taken significant steps to combat this practice. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have introduced legal measures that criminalize FGM, serving as a deterrent and means of accountability. Global entities like the United Nations and WHO have been instrumental in advocating for its eradication through awareness campaigns, education initiatives, and collaborative legal frameworks. The UK's Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 exemplifies a robust legislative response to this grave issue.


I. Legal Framework for Combating FGM in the UK

The United Kingdom's approach to eradicating FGM is firmly rooted in a meticulously crafted legal framework, embodying the nation's dedication to safeguarding the rights and well-being of its citizens. Key pillars of this framework encompass:

  1. Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003: A pivotal landmark, this legislation went beyond merely condemning FGM. It unequivocally criminalized not only the act of performing FGM but also any form of aiding, abetting, or procuring it, even if the gruesome practice occurred outside the UK's borders. This extraterritorial reach exemplifies the UK's unwavering determination to shield its citizens from FGM, irrespective of geographic boundaries.

  2. Serious Crime Act 2015: In a proactive bid to bolster its response to FGM, the UK introduced provisions under the Serious Crime Act 2015, which encompassed the creation of FGM Protection Orders. These ground-breaking orders empower courts to proactively intervene, impose restrictions, and establish protective measures to prevent FGM, constituting a robust mechanism to deter its occurrence.

  3. Children Act 1989: The UK's commitment to child welfare and protection is evident in the Children Act 1989. This legislation lays down a comprehensive framework that enables local authorities and agencies to intervene effectively in cases where girls are at risk of FGM a form of abuse, a proactive stance in safeguarding potential victims.

II. Legal Precedents and Cases

The UK's dedication to combating FGM is reinforced by several landmark legal cases, each serving as a testament to the nation's resolute commitment to eradicating this harmful practice:

  1. Re X and others (Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders) [2017]: A watershed moment, the Re X case showcased the real-world application of FGM Protection Orders. Through the issuance of these orders, the UK demonstrated its proactive approach in preventing FGM and shielding potential victims, signalling a potent deterrent for those considering engaging in the practice.

  2. London Borough of Brent v. A and Others [2016]: This noteworthy case exemplified the UK's readiness to intervene in familial situations to avert the occurrence of FGM. It spotlighted the legal system's willingness to prioritize the well-being of at-risk girls, further reinforcing the country's commitment to proactive prevention.

III. Progress and Conclusion

The concerted efforts of the United Kingdom in combating FGM have yielded tangible progress, underscoring the effectiveness of its multifaceted strategy:

  1. Deterrence Through Enforcement: The UK's rigorous legal measures, combined with successful prosecutions of FGM offenders, serve as a potent deterrent, sending a clear message that engagement in this harmful practice will not go unpunished.

  2. Prevention and Heightened Awareness: The introduction and implementation of FGM Protection Orders, coupled with swift interventions by local authorities, exemplify the UK's proactive approach in preventing FGM and raising public awareness about its devastating consequences.

  3. Global Leadership in Eradicating FGM: By asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over FGM, the UK demonstrates its leadership role in the global fight against this practice, emphasizing its commitment to addressing FGM beyond its own borders.

In conclusion, the United Kingdom's comprehensive legal framework, bolstered by influential legal precedents and impactful cases, underscores its unwavering commitment to eradicating FGM. Through the criminalization of the practice, the protection of potential victims, and the cultivation of awareness, the UK serves as a beacon of effective anti-FGM measures, setting an inspiring example for international efforts to eradicate this harmful practice once and for all. The hope is that countries known to allow this practice take robust actions to uproot this act altogether and provide a safe environment for girls and women around the world.


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