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UK in breach of its international obligations on FGM, warns Bar Human Rights Committee

BHRC submission to Home Affairs Committee calls for specific Government action

Despite the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) being outlawed in 1985 there is yet to be a single prosecution in Britain. Giving submissions to the Home Affairs Committee on FGM, the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) has advised that existing measures are clearly insufficient and that the UK is in breach of its international legal obligations in failing to protect vulnerable girls.

The BHRC says that there are a wealth of reasons for the lack of prosecutions, not least that many victims often do not want criminal sanctions against their relatives; they simply do not want the abusive practice to occur.

However, the BHRC has submitted that securing a conviction is not enough to meet the UK's legal obligations under international law. Several international treaties and associated commentary, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, require the UK to be much more robust in its approach to FGM.

Amongst the difficulties in combating FGM has been the anxiety about challenging cultural or traditional practices.  However, in a General Assembly resolution commenting on FGM in 2007 the United Nations emphasised that custom, tradition or religious beliefs cannot be used as excuses for avoiding the obligation to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Furthermore, the European Parliament resolved in 2012 that in dealing with FGM, Member States develop a full range of protective measures, including mechanisms to coordinate, monitor and evaluate law enforcement.

The BHRC has called on the government to introduce a host of measures, including specific civil injunctive orders akin to orders under the Forced Marriage Act 2007, to better safeguard vulnerable girls. The BHRC has also proposed that the government close a loophole which means children in the UK without secure immigration can be taken overseas and mutilated.

Given the complexity and secrecy surrounding incidents of FGM, the BHRC recommendations include the introduction of better education and training for front line child protection experts, as well as school teachers. There is also a pressing need to create sensitive, properly resourced community engagement projects to change attitudes about FGM.

The BHRC report to the Home Affairs Committee was submitted by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Dexter Dias QC, Zimran Samuel, Theodora Christou, Felicity Gerry, Courtney Perlmutter, Sam Fowles and Charlotte Proudman.

Zimran Samuel, barrister, 42 Bedford Row