The History of FGM in English Law

Lily Frost - Writer & Deputy Editor

The Ministry of Justice defines FGM, or Female Genital Mutilation, as a, ‘procedures that includes the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non medical reasons’. This practice has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985 and the Act was furthered in 2003.  The statistics regarding the amount of girls and women who have been subjected to FGM are unknown due to the crime being widely unreported to the police.

This may be due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that FGM is usually conducted on children, and therefore it requires the child, parent or school staff to contact the police. As it is a domestic crime, it is highly likely that the person conducting or allowing the FGM to take place will be a parent or relative of the victim. Due to the traumatic nature of the crime and the domestic setting, it is also unlikely that the victim will report this crime to their school or anyone else especially as the majority of perpetrators are parents or relatives to the victim. Additionally, unlike other domestic crimes, the injuries sustained are not seen easily, therefore it is difficult for a school or any other institution to recognise that the victim has been subjected to FGM which furthers the problem of low numbers of reports to the police.

However, whilst FGM is widely unreported to the police, there is some idea of the number of girls and women who have been affected. NHS Digital released a report on 4th July 2017, which found that between April 2016 and March 2017 there were 9,179 ‘attendances reported at NHS Trusts and GP practises where FGM was identified or a procedure was undertaken’. With this rough number in mind, it is deeply upsetting and astonishing to discover that in the United Kingdom, there have only been four cases tried to convict a defendant for conducting Female Genital Mutilation. Out of these four cases; only one case was successful.

The first ever FGM case was tried in 2012, the defendant, Dr Dharmasena was tried under the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act. Dr Dharmasena delivered a woman’s baby and afterwards, stitched her up. The defence claimed he did this to stop the bleeding from an incision needed for childbirth, as she had been subjected to FGM in Somalia as a child. They argued that is was therefore necessary and ultimately legal as he is an approved person. This is outlined under the 2003 FGM Act, ‘…no offence is committed by an approved person who performs…(b) a surgical operation on a girl who is in any stage of labour, or has just given birth, for purposes connected with the labour or birth’. However, the Crown argued that this stitching was intended to reinstitute her FGM, which was not medically necessary and against the law. The jury deliberated for under thirty minutes and found him not guilty.

The second trial began in February and collapsed within three days. The case was against an Uber driver and father, who was accused of allowing FGM to take place on his six year old daughter. The Judge believed that the key witness was an anti- FGM campaigner and was inconsistent. After three days, the Judge directed the Jury to find the defendant not guilty.

The Old Bailey heard the third attempt of prosecuting someone under the FGM Act. The case was heard in March 2018 and was against a lawyer held on two counts of FGM as well as other counts of child cruelty. The defendant was accused of arranging FGM to be carried out on his nine year old daughter. The Crown argued that there had been two instances where he arranged someone to come to their family house to perform FGM on his daughter, as a form of punishment. The defence, including an emotional testimony from the defendant, argued that these claims were fabricated and arose from an acrimonious divorce. The Jury deliberated for six hours before finding the defendant not guilty on both charges of FGM.

Throughout these three attempts at a prosecution, the competency of the Crown Prosecution Service was questioned as until 2019, there had not been a successful conviction of FGM since the law was introduced. This can be seen through statistics, as, even ignoring the successes or failures of each attempt, only four cases have been tried in the United Kingdom on counts of FGM. That is four out of roughly (per year) 9, 179 victims. Let’s assume that the NHS digital statistics are roughly correct per year. Additionally, assuming that the number stay approximately the same each year. The time between January 2012 (the first attempt) to January 2019 (the last attempt) is seven years. That is 64, 253 attendances that would have been reported at NHS Trusts and GP practises where FGM is identified in that time period. As a percentage, that is 0.006% of the victims, whose cases go to trial in the space of seven years, irregardless of a successful or failed conviction. That is, 1 in every 16,000 cases have been tried in the last seven years. These statistics are truly concerning and speak for themselves.  These numbers starkly show that this may be one of the most under prosecuted crimes in the United Kingdom. This also shows that it is a crime that is still very much taking place. Part of this problem may be that a large proportion of FGM is carried out abroad, where the procedure is still frequently practiced. Whilst  there has been progress such as The African Union adopting the Maputo Protocol, enforcing women’s rights and the end of FGM in 2003, by the end of 2013 only 37 member countries had ratified it out of 54.

FGM trials in the United Kingdom have been few and far between, however the pace has quickened recently, with three cases being tried between 2018 and January 2019. Our history of FGM cases is upsetting but with the recent successful conviction in January 2019, the United Kingdom can work with other countries in securing more trials and more guilty prosecutions. I am writing a follow up article to reflect on the recent successful case and discuss how it can be used to encourage victims to come forward in order to secure more convictions.


Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003
[PAS] and others, "Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Annual Report 2016/17 [PAS] - NHS Digital", NHS Digital, 2019


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