Brian Monteith: Scotland has to wake up to reality of FGM abuse

Female Genital Mutilation remains widespread in the UK

Female Genital Mutilation remains widespread in the UK

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COMPLACENCY makes us a safe haven where this terrible crime can continue unchecked, writes Brian Monteith

You may not know and you may not care, but today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

Some readers will already be alert to the repugnant and highly dangerous practice, some will become so after reading articles that will appear today, and others will have an innate skepticism towards “international days” – seeing it as yet another PR manipulation by hectoring public health bullies and so quickly turn the page.

If you are in the last category I urge you to resist the temptation to move on, as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM as it is now widely known, should concern everyone, man or woman, mother or father, sister or brother – for like all forms of child abuse it is a threat to the whole community.

Very few of us do not have a sister or a cousin or a niece or granddaughter whom we would never wish to see subjected to such a crime. If we have an ounce of humanity in us we should all want to ensure that no one, including those we do not know, could be maimed for life by this barbaric practice.

When a young girl as young as three is “cut” – often with a razor blade, sometimes with a shard of glass – it is not just the immediate pain and psychological shock that is abhorrent but the ongoing consequences that will stay with that girl as she journeys from infancy through childhood, puberty and into adulthood. The procedure is itself life threatening, running the risk of a fatal uncontrollable heamorrhage, it can lead to many diseases from HIV through to septicemia as well as repeated urinary infections and of course the loss of any physical sensation from making love.

The four types of FGM involve the partial or complete destruction of the external female genitalia or other sexual organs for non-medical reasons. These extend from removal of portions of the clitoris and labia, to their complete removal, and even the stitching up of the vagina, save for a small aperture to allow urination and menstruation.

This is then repeatedly cut and resewn to enable intercourse and childbirth.

All are heinous and form part of a wider catalogue of honour based crimes, for the motive behind why adults (including mothers) seek out and encourage FGM is to protect the reputation and beliefs of their own girls or those of the wider family.

Writing on her blog, Sam Preston, a training director specialising in safeguarding children reveals, “Shockingly, an estimated 5700 UK resident girls and young women have been cut so clearly FGM remains a British safeguarding priority. You wouldn’t look the other way at knife or gun crime and FGM is no different. It’s a violent crime, an abuse and defilement of human rights resulting in long standing physical and emotional difficulties.”

If over half a million girls have been subjected to FGM in the UK how many have suffered such an appalling fate in Scotland and is enough being done about it? More worryingly, is there any basis for the reports that families from the rest of the UK travel to Scotland where the practice is believed to be easier to procure due to a more complacent attitude?

Since devolution our interventions or laws have tended to come at least two years after introduction in the rest of the UK. FGM became unlawful in the whole UK by virtue of the Female Circumcision Act 1985 and was followed by the Prohibition of Female genital mutilation Act in 2003, with its Scottish equivalent in 2005. This second act extended the protection to girls being taken out of the country and made it a crime to know and not report of such foreign procurement.

In England mandatory reporting by schoolteachers, social workers and related professionals of any signs or reasons to believe that FGM is a risk or has taken place was introduced on 31st October 2015. Signs of intent to procure FGM include parents seeking school permission to take their girls to countries such as Egypt where the practice can be performed, girls having bleeding or constantly seeking teachers’ permission to go to the toilet. There is, as yet, no sign of such a mandatory requirement being introduced in Scotland and so Scotland remains a weak if not the weakest place for safeguarding young girls from FGM.

Not all aspects of our cultures are good, but fortunately cultures of regions, countries and communities change and evolve. In Scotland we have sought to counter the heavy drinking wife-beating machismo of male culture, and with some success.

Likewise we need to see FGM in its cultural context if we are to be successful in ending it, just passing laws criminalising the practice will not be enough.

Female Genital Mutilation is culturally based amongst mostly Muslim majority countries in North Africa and Western Asia such as Somalia. That FGM has never been part of the culture of the majority of the World’s Muslims provides an opportunity for programmes within the migrant and Muslim communities to help change cultural attitudes here in Scotland and the UK.

As an example we need only turn to the true story, made into a must-see documentary, of how young Maasai tribesmen who formed a cricket team and travelled to play at the Lords went home and managed to convince their elders that the practice of FGM must stop. It is from within our own migrant communities that such persuasion must come.

As Sam Preston argues, “We cannot afford to sit back and wait on daughters reporting their families to the authorities, this is something that just will not happen.”

It is the very reason that after more than thirty years and many prosecutions there has not been one successful conviction for FGM in Britain. Scotland needs to catch up. Mandatory reporting should be on Nicola Sturgeon’s to do list if she can draw herself back to doing her day job.

• An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to an ‘estimated 570,000 UK resident girls and young women’ rather than the actual estimated figure of 5700

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