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Female Genital Mutilation (also known as ‘female circumcision’ and often abbreviated to FGM) is the cutting, stretching or incising of the female genitals for cultural or or traditional reasons.

Since 1985 female genital mutilation has been a criminal offence in the UK both under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 and later the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. However prosecutions under the criminal law have been extremely rare.

Thousands of young girls in the UK are susceptible to being a victim of female genital mutilation. A particularly risky time of year is over the summer holidays when young girls are often taken abroad under the guise of visiting friends and family. Unfortunately the girls then become victims to FGM while they are out of the country. Between July and September 2015 there were 1,385 newly recorded cases of FGM in England.

In most cases FGM is a deeply held belief that it is the right thing to do. However it is a traumatic and painful ordeal for females and the practice often leads to medical complications and sometimes death. As most cases involve tight knit families and communities it is understandable that the criminal route is not always favourable. Therefore there is a now a civil route that people can take to prevent FGM from happening to their child or a child in their care.

In July 2015 new civil provisions came into force under the Serious Crime Act 2015. This makes it possible to apply to the Family Court for a ‘Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order’ (‘FGMPO’). It then becomes a criminal offence if someone breaches the order. If convicted the penalty could be up to 5 years in prison.

An FGM Protection Order could cover a variety of things including the following:

  1. Passport confiscation so the child cannot be taken abroad;
  2. Stop contact between the child and individual’s you suspect of wanting to take the child to perform FGM;
  3. Remand someone in custody;
  4. Order mandatory medical checks;
  5. Instruct a potential victim to live at a particular address so authorities can monitor.

Importantly, victims are also given anonymity for life. This makes it a criminal offence for anyone to identify a victim including on social media.

If you are a doctor, nurse, teacher or social worker there is now a duty on you to report any case of FGM that you are aware of if it involves someone under the age of 18. If you fail to report it you risk losing your job. The Home Office has released guidance for mandatory reporting.

Cris McCurley, Partner and Head of the International Family Law department specialises in a range of cultural and international family law issues. This includes FGM, child abduction, forced marriage and honour based violence.

In 2015 Cris McCurley contributed to an article in the Guardian explaining the development since the FGM Protection Orders came into force.

Cris has also written an insightful article on the issue of FGM in the Legal Aid Group Magazine: FGM – Why prosecutions are not the answer

If you are concerned about a child being taken away to undergo FGM please seek legal advice as soon as possible. Speak to one of our experienced team on 0191 275 2626.

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