FGM follow up – DPP calls for mandatory reporting of cases.

DPP Alison Saunders

DPP Alison Saunders

Our last post was a call for greater awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and our horror at the way the practise of cutting young girls can continue in communities in Britain seemingly without fear of prosecution.

To write on the subject last week was good timing. Over the weekend reports and comment in the national press indicated that the challenge of eradicating FGM is gaining support and prosecutions will become more common. However, it is still far from easy to see how this will come about.

The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has criticised medical staff for the poor number of referrals. Only 11 cases of female genital mutilation have been referred for prosecution by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service in the last three years, even though at least 144 complaints were made to police. The first prosecution for female genital mutilation was announced two weeks ago. It is 29 years after it became illegal in England and Wales.

The DPP was appearing before the House of Commons home affairs select committee, the Chairman of which, Keith Vaz said they had taken evidence that as many as 66,000 women in England and Wales had been subjected to FGM. “Eleven referrals sounds a very small figure,” he said.

The DPP claims it is lack of evidence that prevents prosecutions proceeding, rather than loopholes in the legislation. That is why she wants reporting by health staff to become compulsory, but she would not go so far as to say compulsory examination of girls, such as that required in France, should become part of British law.

We appreciate that this is a legal issue that is fraught with difficulties, but it is too important to be lost in a mire of discussion. Even the announcement of a prosecution has met with concern, as the case is not straightforward, involving as it does a repair rather than the actual act of FGM.

What do you think? Are we guilty of talking too much and doing too little? How should medical staff approach this? Are you in favour of compulsory examination of girls? After all it has almost eradicated FGM in France.

We would love to know your views. This is a subject we will come back to and a campaign we are committed to supporting.

 

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): It is, simply, child abuse.

Female-circumcision-006On the 14th March The Guardian reported that for the first time a doctor will stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM).  13-year-old Sohair al-Bata’a died following an alleged operation in his clinic last year. FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008 but may doctors still carry out the operation on a private basis, as parents see it as an acceptable ‘rite of passage’ for their daughters.

How much do you know about FGM?  The work of charities and the government is raising awareness, but it is still a practice that remains safely hidden in many local communities. Female genital mutilation  is actually  a form of child abuse which damages girls and women, both physically and mentally by using a procedure  which The World Health Organization (WHO) describes as one that involves ‘ partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ (WHO, 2013). Communities practising FGM cite  reasons for its use such as social acceptance, family honour, marriageability or even the mistaken belief that it makes childbirth easier.  However, even a brief reading of the research undertaken on the subject tells of the short term  risk of shock, bleeding, infections and damage to nearby organs; as well as the possibility of death. Longer term effects  include very painful sex, abscesses, complications in pregnancy and, contrary to cultural belief, a greater risk of childbirth dangerous to mother and child. Psychological damage is common; in one study 80% of women  who had undergone and FGM procedure suffered from depression or anxiety disorders.

In Britain it is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act to ‘perform FGM or to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself’. It can incur a maximum prison term of fourteen years, but prosecution seems low in comparison to the potential numbers of girls and women involved.  Most families do not see FGM as abuse and might accuse anyone intervening of being discriminatory. We must not shirk our responsibilities towards these girls.

We support the charity NSPCC both locally in the South West and nationally, in its campaign to stop this barbaric practice. The technique is  ‘traditionally carried out by a female with no medical training, without anaesthetics or antiseptic treatments, using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades’ (NHS Choices 2013). The girl is sometimes forcibly restrained, held down even by a parent. FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, but the majority of cases occur between the ages of 5 and 8 years. Can you imagine the distress that must cause? Research has identified that tens of thousands of women in Britain live with the debilitating consequences of FGM and more than 20,000 young girls may be at risk. The crime is hidden, so figures are hard to establish, but these numbers may very well be much higher.

Communities in more than 28 African countries practise FGM, along with countries in the Middle East and Asia. The NHS has found that particular cities in the UK have more incidences of FGM, including London, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton, Birmingham, and Oxford. But nowhere is immune.

The NSPCC has established a free 24-hour FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or its email at  fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk should you or someone you know be concerned that a child be at risk of FGM. After seven months the helpline had already received more than 150 calls.

forwardIf you would like to know more about FGM, go to the World Health Organisation website for full details,  or take a look at the wonderful Forward ( Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) site. It makes horrifying reading. It is too late for Sohair al-Bata’a, but not for the thousands of girls at risk in this country. Whether we are parents or not we owe it to them to ensure this abuse is ended.

Inspiration on your bookshelf: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared…..

100yroldmanAllan Karlsson is sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home on his 100th birthday as preparations are made for a party he hates the thought of, to be attended by a mayor he does not want to meet and reporters he doesn’t want to talk to. So he decides to take control, and climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. …

The One Hundred Year-Old Man is written by Jonas Jonasson, originally in Swedish and now translated by Rod Bradbury and what a wonderful book this is; heart-warming and fun and full of joy. Allan Karlsson is the perfect hero/anti-hero as his getaway becomes increasingly surreal, involving as it does criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and endlessly incompetent detectives.

But even as we enjoy the adventures of the present day, and as Allan enjoys his new-found freedom, we learn that he is not any ordinary man. His earlier life, told in flashback, is a parade of encounters with famous people during famous times as he helps to make the atom bomb, befriends presidents and dictators and quietly influences important twentieth century events.

This isn’t just a funny novel, it is a tribute to the joy of growing old disgracefully and living every moment to the full. It is a prompt to us all to take life by the scruff of the neck and ride it, rather than allowing it to trample us underfoot; to fly, and to make the most of every opportunity presented to us, turning negatives into positives.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Is it simply a black comedy, funny escapism? Or can we learn something from Allan Karlsson and his determination not to let what is left of his life be ruled by the demands of others?

We would love to hear your views…

A commitment to stop abuse: the NSPCC is our charity for 2014

nspcc_logo_masterHere at The Terrace in Taunton we have, for a number of years now, ‘adopted’ a charity with whom we work for a year and for whom we raise funds at various events. In the past we have supported bibic and St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice and both remain dear to our hearts. However, in 2013 we announced that we would be raising funds for the NSPCC and for the first time we are continuing that support into a second year. Why? Well the work we know they are doing to support our children and young people is getting more important as time passes, and technology develops that offers more opportunities for abuse to those intent on exploiting children. The government of the day always says they will put in place new rules and regulations to prevent those intent on ‘grooming’ girls and boys. But still it continues.

Child sexual exploitation rings have been uncovered in the big cities and most recently there have been big court cases involving perpetrators in  Rochdale and Oxford. It is hard to believe that this could happen in other, more rural areas such as here in the south-west of England where we assume communities are closer and we would notice if such a thing were happening. Many of those young people who fall victim to these gangs are vulnerable in some way – perhaps in local authority care or in a family where parental controls are not in place.

This is not the case. It is important to realise that  some abusers are brazen enough to approach young people in town centres in the middle of the day. They hang around schools, pick a ‘target’ and offer attention, making the young person feel special and taking them for coffee, flattering them in exchange for their mobile phone number.  An older man may make an under-age teenager feel they are more mature than their peers and encourage them to believe they are in a genuine relationship by showering them with expensive gifts.

campaignpngThe NSPCC offers support not only to young people but to parents and carers, to ensure we as adults recognise the signs and take action. We need to be on the look out for a change in habits, expensive items that we know our child could not have afforded, or a sudden need for secrecy about where they are going and who they are seeing. The young person may not perceive the behaviour of the man (it is rarely women, but not impossible so take nothing for granted) to be abusive and this can inevitably lead to friction so the NSPCC can be there for all sides, as can a counsellor or psychotherapist with particular skills in family mediation.

So this year we will once again be highlighting the work this wonderful charity does and working to raise funds for them. It is vital that we work hard to eradicate opportunities for the shocking abuse that can wreck young lives.

Go the NSPCC website  here for phone numbers to use to report a concern or for support in a crisis.

The Terrace Taunton offers support to families and to children and young people. See our website at www.the-terrace.co.uk for more details.