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FGM in the UK

Andrew Lansley recently said that he was ‘shocked and appalled’ to learn that doctors were pre-signing forms to approve abortions. Pre-signing forms ‘constitutes a criminal offence’, Mr Lansley said, and could see doctors being struck off by the General Medical Council.

But if the well being of women is the concern, then Lansley might do better to focus on the problem of female genital mutilation in the UK.  Only two doctors have been struck off for carrying out this practice since 1980.

The Sunday Times (£) has reported details of an undercover investigation which revealed that several health practitioners have apparently either been willing to perform FGM themselves or arrange for someone else to carry out the procedure.  It is thought that up to 100,000 women in the UK may have undergone FGM, and a Birmingham midwife is reporting that she has seen evidence of mutilations trebling over the past ten years.

One of those who apparently offered to carry out FGM was Birmingham dentist, Omar Sheikh Mohamed Addow.  He at first claimed to be against the practice, but, when told that he had been recommended by a particular GP, he ‘relaxed  … and he detailed how circumcision worked.’

The dentist seems only to have been willing to carry out a ‘mild’ form of circumcision, but another alternative practitioner was prepared to ‘both remove the clitoris and sew up the vagina’.  All those named in the Sunday Times report have denied the allegations.

Alison Byrne, a midwife in Birmingham, makes an important point:

But FGM is not on the curriculum for medical school training, or for social workers, or teachers and even for midwives it may only be covered in the inner city. There is very low awareness. We owe these little girls born here more than that.

The editorial in the Sunday Times, quite rightly, criticises the problems caused by a ‘warped sense of respect for different cultural traditions’. Here is an extract from blog post written by a doctor who has grappled with these issues herself, first feeling unsure of her ground:

A few years ago I ended up in an academic scrap with an African woman who angrily asked on what basis I – as a white English woman – felt qualified to opine about the rights or wrongs of removing a (culturally unrelated) young girl’s clitoris and labia.

but then having a moment of realization:

But then today I read Somali-born model Waris Dirie’s commentary on the undercover investigation, and changed my mind. Dirie, who was mutilated as a child, says that ‘If a white girl is abused, the police come break down the door. If a black girl is mutilated, nobody takes care of her.’

This point is reinforced by Marai Larasi, quoted in an interesting piece by Joan Smith:

Imkaan’s director, Marai Larasi, called for protective measures and argued that the issue was “neglected because of fears… of being labelled at best culturally insensitive and at worst racist”. It’s a belief echoed by other professionals working with victims from ethnic minorities, who say the problem is made worse by male community “leaders” defending patriarchal practices.

Even though the Metropolitan Police have received 166 reports of FGM since 2008, no convictions have been secured.  And, although the law may act as a fairly strong disincentive to people considering carrying out the practice themselves in the UK, it does seem as though there is little to deter parents from taking their daughters abroad to be mutilated.  There seems to be a reluctance to punish parents because to do so may not seem to be in the best interests of a child who has already undergone FGM – but the best interests of future potential victims also need to be taken into account.

Hat Tip: Pedro in the comments