Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability writes for Politics Home on the Government's unwavering determination to tackle the cruel practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
We will never give up the fight to eradicate the horrific practice of FGM
Girls should feel safe in their homes and with their families. Damaging their bodies through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an abhorrent crime. It causes extreme physical suffering and deep psychological scars, as well as being a terrible betrayal of their trust.
As Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, it is my mission to help protect our communities and keep our women and children safe from harm. Work to tackle FGM is an integral part of our cross-Government Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, supported by an increased £100m funding. And while we have made progress, we accept there is more to do.
FGM has been a criminal offence since 1985, and in 2015 we significantly strengthened the law to help address barriers to prosecution and improve protections for victims. Through the Serious Crime Act 2015 we introduced a range of measures including: FGM Protection Orders, a mandatory reporting duty requiring certain professionals to report known cases of under 18s to the police, a new offence of failure to protect a girl from FGM, and extended jurisdiction over FGM offences committed abroad.
By its very nature, the practice of FGM exists in the shadows. We know that this is a crime that transcends borders – that is why Border Force, in partnership with the police, carries out regular operations which use intelligence to make targeted approaches at airports to raise awareness of harmful practices such as FGM and identify potential perpetrators. These operations take place throughout the year, with a particular focus on the school holiday period when girls may be most at risk. This week saw a series of coordinated operations by police and Border Force officers, together with their US counterparts, at a number of UK transport hubs, including Heathrow, St Pancras as well as JFK airport, targeting flights from countries where FGM is prevalent. This follows on from a joint declaration signed between UK law enforcement and US authorities to strengthen intelligence sharing on FGM.
While a tough law enforcement approach is paramount, a range of professionals have an integral role to play in tackling FGM. It is just as vital to educate frontline professionals such as teachers, health professionals and social workers so they understand the collective responsibility they have to protect people at risk. That is why, as well as introducing the mandatory reporting duty in 2016 we published multi-agency guidance on FGM and provided free online training so professionals are more aware of risk factors of individuals they support.
If we are to eradicate FGM, engaging with communities where FGM may be practised is key. It is about reaching out and informing them so they understand that carrying out this procedure can subject their loved one to serious health complications. One of the ways we do this is through the Home Office’s FGM Unit, which carries out an ongoing programme of nationwide outreach, raising awareness of the issue with communities, voluntary organisations as well as professionals.
This country expects much, much more for our girls. It was encouraging to see that the Sentencing Council has published advice designed to toughen sentences for individuals for failing to protect girls from FGM. And while we have already bolstered the law on FGM offences, we want to prevent it from happening in the first place - ensuring the practice does not continue through the generations. That is why we introduced FGM Protection Orders; 220 such orders have been made to date to protect victims and those at risk.
FGM is a hugely complex issue but its eradication is essential to the protection of young girls, not just here in the UK but around the world - at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.
In 2013 the UK made the largest ever donor commitment (£35m over 5 years) to help end FGM internationally, and we are making progress: today a girl is about one-third less likely to be cut than 30 years ago. But global efforts need to go further and faster, because population growth means that if progress is not accelerated the number of girls undergoing FGM will continue to increase. In November, we are hosting a joint conference with the Council of Europe which will bring together experts from across the continent and beyond to share practical examples of international work to end FGM and forced marriage, including influential policymakers, frontline professionals, non-Governmental organisations and inspiring campaigners.
Operations like the one this week with the US, combined with the signing of a joint declaration between our two countries is so crucial to this international effort. Tackling FGM is a global battle and one that we will continue until the war is won.
By Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability