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United Kingdom: First Successful Prosecution for Female Genital Mutilation

(July 31, 2019) Despite laws against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) being on the books in the United Kingdon (UK) since 1985, the first successful prosecution in the UK for FGM occurred in February 2019. The defendant in this case was convicted of carrying out FGM on her daughter when she was three years old, with the crime being discovered after the defendant called an ambulance for her daughter due to extensive bleeding caused by the procedure.

Legal Framework for Prosecuting FGM

FGM has been a crime in England since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act was enacted in 1985. This Act was repealed and replaced in 2003 by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which was enacted to give the provisions extraterritorial effect and close a loophole in the 1985 Act that enabled parents to take their daughters overseas for the procedure. The extraterritorial scope of the Act allows individuals to be prosecuted if they perform FGM; aid and abet someone in performing FGM; counsel a person to perform FGM; procure a person to perform FGM; or assist a girl in performing FGM on herself, either within or outside of the UK. The scope of the Act was extended by the Serious Crime Act 2015, which amended the 2003 Act to cover offenses committed outside the UK by UK residents. The amendments also provided victims of FGM with lifelong anonymity and introduced FGM Protection Orders to protect girls who might be subject to or have been subject to FGM. The practice of FGM is punishable with up to fourteen years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Failing to protect a girl from FGM is also punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The amendments also created a mandatory duty for healthcare workers, teachers, and social workers to inform the police of FGM performed on girls under the age of 18.

Instances of FGM in the UK

Reportedly over 6,000 instances of FGM are performed annually across the UK, typically in immigrant communities from countries where FGM is traditionally practiced. For the years 2015 to the first quarter of 2019, the NHS identified more than 20,000 women who have been subject to FGM, although reports state the police believe the majority of these cases are historical and occurred outside the UK. Despite these numbers, only a small number of FGM cases have been prosecuted and, until recently, all ended with acquittals, resulting in frustration with the lack of enforcement of the Act.

The First Successful FGM Prosecution Case

In the successful prosecution of February 2019, the defendant stated to doctors at the hospital that the injuries to her daughter were caused by her daughter falling on sharp metal object after reaching for cookies. The injuries required the victim to undergo emergency surgery, and the doctor found three separate cuts that he determined had been deliberately inflicted with a sharp instrument. This opinion was shared by other specialist doctors. Following the classification criteria set by the World Health Organization, the injuries amounted to a type II FGM, which involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge remarked that he could not be certain whether the defendant had cut her daughter or a “witch doctor” mentioned by her daughter had been the one to inflict the injuries while the defendant had held her child down. He also noted that the defendant was not from a country where FGM was traditionally practiced, but stated that a number of items connected to witchcraft were discovered around the defendant’s home. When sentencing the defendant, the judge noted that, as there were no specific sentencing guidelines for this offense, he had consulted Guidelines from the Sentencing Council that he deemed had relevance to the case, including the Overarching Guidelines on Domestic Abuse, the Assault Guidelines, and the Child Cruelty Guidelines. Taking into account these Guidelines, and both the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case, the judge sentenced the defendant to 11 years’ imprisonment for one count of FGM.

While this prosecution was successful, a government review of the law found that most prosecutions are not, making FGM “a national scandal that is continuing to result in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls.”