Female Genital Mutilation Is Child Abuse Too; So Why NO Enquiries About Ignoring It?

25/10/2012 16:45 BST | Updated 25/12/2012 10:12 GMT

In May this year an e-petition demanding an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain was submitted to the UK Government website. I was lead author of that petition, which can be viewed here.

Well over 20,000, perhaps 25,000, under-age British girls are thought to be subjected to, or at serious risk of, FGM every year, so we might expect that a petition seeking to stop it would be accepted by the government, as encouragement to action and greater awareness.

But no. The petition was, after a full week of waiting, rejected without explanation. It took another month or more of insistent emails to discover why.

No 'professional neglect'?

Then at last it transpired that apparently there was discomfort in high places about the specific part of the e-petition which said:

Criminal abuse of children must not be ignored because those who enforce the law are uncertain how to deal with perpetrators and their victims.

This scandalous professional neglect, with 20,000+ children in the UK at risk, must be remedied forthwith. Full enforcement of the law must be brought to bear immediately.

The advice I eventually received was this:

It appears that it may be the phrase 'professional neglect' that is problematic, as it is potentially accusing unnamed individuals of criminal activity and could be seen as defamatory.

So the 'offending' phrase was removed and the petition published on 25 June 2012 as e-petition 35313: 'Stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / 'Cutting') in Britain'.

Contrasting positions

Four months and hundreds of NoFGM e-petition supporting signatories later, many of us must be scratching our heads in bewilderment.

The sensitive souls in government required that a passing reference in the NoFGM e-petition to possible professional neglect, somewhere in a very crowded, non-person-specific field, be removed - even though there are many, many thousands of practitioners in health, social, legal and child safe-guarding roles in the UK and not even any particular occupation, let alone particular individual practitioners, was mentioned or named.

But now in contrast the hunt is on for a small number of people in a broadcasting company who may, or may not, have been complicit in the child abuse allegedly perpetrated by Jimmy Savile.

If found to be true, the allegations against Savile and anyone who shielded him in crime are indeed serious. It's thought that perhaps 200 underage girls were victims over a number of years, and sadly some of them may very well have been traumatised with long term consequences.

We can however fervently hope that no-one suffered extreme pain, grim life-long physical damage or actually died - unlike the very much larger number of young girl victims of FGM (perhaps a quarter million over the decade, in Britain), some of whom will certainly have done so.

Some laws are not enforced; some may be

Procuring or perpetuating FGM in Britain, or on British children, carries a maximum (but not obligatory) penalty of 14 years in prison. It is also legally obligatory to report even any suspicion that a child is at risk or has undergone FGM.

Yet still there have been no successful prosecutions at all concerning anything to do with FGM, anywhere in the UK. 'Too difficult...' say the authorities.

The alleged child abuse by Savile and the possible culpability of BBC personnel currently make daily headline news, amid open discussion about possible prosecution of those who may at some point in the future be found to have failed to report their concerns about Savile's activities to the authorities.

So why the coyness about people who fail to report or deal with suspicions about widespread and deadly breaches of the law on female genital mutilation?

A duty of child safe-guarding

If (in my view absolutely correctly) it's now important to investigate a possible failure by third parties to protect children from abuse by the 'entertainer' Jimmy Savile, why was the far more impersonal e-petition on FGM apparently not permitted even to refer to the possibility of state-employed professionals neglecting children at risk of barbaric bodily harm?

Indeed, why did the current coalition government actually, actively, remove the role of national 'NoFGM' co-ordinator, set up expressly to bring services together to stop this nightmarishly awful practice?

For the sake of all children, and specifically to halt the hurt to an estimated-average 50 children at risk or victims of female genital mutilation in Britain every day of the entire year, we must demand to know right now exactly who in child safe-guarding is responsible for what.

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Please sign the HM Government e-petition No.35313: Stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / 'Cutting') in Britain

You can read more about FGM and efforts to stop it here: #NoFGM: A Listing For [UK] Action & References On Female Genital Mutilation; or visit #NoFGM Daily News.