Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the worst forms of child abuse, and it does not occur in isolation. It is a practice which has its roots in patriarchal misogyny, which denies women and girls rights to their bodies and their sexuality.
Imagine a little girl. She’s pinned down by those she trusted the most with cloth stuffed in her mouth and her legs spread apart. A very sharp blade is taken to her genitalia, removing all her labia and clitoris. They close her vagina, leaving her with a small hole from where she is expected to menstruate, have intercourse and give birth at some point.
At the age of seven, my life changed because adults decided I needed to be controlled and needed to be silenced – because I was a girl, who might become a woman with a voice and would be free to be who she chose to be. Unless you, reading this, experience flashbacks because you have had or experienced similar violence yourself, you might not believe what I’ve just described. FGM is serious sexual assault against children, and one of the worst forms of child abuse and grievous bodily harm imaginable.
Many will agree cutting children is horrific and rightly so, but let me take you back a little to the girl pinned down, cloth stuffed in her mouth. Without even cutting her, just by her, you have committed many crimes already. If I touched a child’s genitalia, I would be on the sex offenders list, right? So, correct me if I’m wrong but FGM should surely already fall under the 2004 Children Act. Fundamentally, the Children Act cannot name every single physical and emotional harm, however it clearly states physical violence against children is a crime.
Many are outraged by Tory backbench MP Christopher Chope’s decision to block an anti-FGM bill in the House of Commons last Friday, which would have amended the Children Act to allow judges to put girls at risk of FGM into care. It’s important we recognise and admit our system that protects women and girls in this country is not perfect and needs extensive reform (hence why FGM has become such a difficult issue to prosecute, when it really should not be) and we must not forget those who are harmed by FGM are children who deserve the exact same rights as any other child in this country – seeing FGM as a separate issue to everything else covered by the Children Act means we are treating survivors differently effectively because of their ethnicity.
As a survivor of FGM, it feels wrong to need to be drawing up bills to tackle a certain kind of child abuse based on someone’s background – we are sending out a message that not all children are not equally protected under law. Instead, shouldn’t our efforts be reminding our politicians and frontline staff of their duties to protect children from harm under laws that already exist?
All I’m asking is that these adults in charge, please reread your own constitutions, your own laws and your own existing bills. Let’s lobby to use those, and see that all children get the equal treatment under the law that they deserve.
Dr Leyla Hussein is a psychotherapist, speaker and anti-FGM campaigner