Female genital mutilation

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Abstract

Female genital mutilation (FGM) occurs at higher rates in African states, but that is not to say that there are no such incidences in England. To this effect, FGM has been criminalized since 1985 and any person that conducts such acts attract a prison sentence of 14 years in incarceration. In 2003, the law was further amended and prohibits any citizen from taking a child to foreign countries to get the child’s sexual organ modified for no medical reason. FGM is universally considered as a way of causing harm on a child; since, it is imposed on children a matter that they engage in involuntarily. This causes torture and is burdensome to the child. In most cases, the young girls are subjected to early marriages leading them to terminate schooling and assume the duties of a wife. Important to highlight is that a number of girls succumb to death due to excessive bleeding. From all the identified facts about female genital mutilation, this write up will discuss the social-legal aspect of the topic. A close examination of the extent to which the law has been effective to reduce these cases of child abuse is conducted. The inadequacies of the law will form part of the discussion. Important to note, an emphasis is put on the various ways FGM harms the physical, emotional, and psychological growth of the girl child.

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Introduction

Universally, child abuse is punishable by law, as it is considered a criminal offence. There are various forms of child abuses, but FGM will take center stage in this write up. FGM is an act of modifying a female’s genitalia by partially or totally removing them for no medical reason. In most cases, it is done for religious, social, and traditional beliefs. These acts are extremely dangerous and in some cases they may lead to death. The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized FGM into categories. These include Clitoridectomy that involves the part or the whole amputation of the clitoris; Excision, the complete or part amputation of the genitals; infibulation, covering or seal creation, in order to narrow the vaginal opening; and all other dangerous procedures carried out on a female genitalia for reasons that are not medically proven. Important to note, most of this procedures are carried out on children that is individuals below eighteen years of age. In England, there is a law that prohibits female circumcision. On September 16th, 1985 an Act of parliament was enacted terming female circumcision as criminal offense. In 2003, the Female genital mutilation Act replaced the previous Female Circumcision Act of 1985. Therefore, it is prudent to state that the English society loathe this act through the constituted social contracts that bind all its citizens.

Child abuse in relation to FGM

Child abuse is geared towards causing physical, emotional, verbal or sexual harm. In this case, the topic of concern is the physical harm induced on a girl by mutilating her genitals. Female genital mutilation is mostly popular in Africa due to the cultural beliefs and tradition. FGM is mostly procured among young girls, which is the reason it is considered as child abuse. It is a painful procedure that at times leads to death, causes long-term challenges when having sexual intercourse, childbirth, and results in psychological problems.

The procedure may lead to excessive bleeding, infection, cause infertility and death. After this procedure takes place, girls are forced out of school and married off to older men. As a result, their future and dreams in education are shattered and condemned to the life of early marriage. Moreover, some parents forcefully circumcise most of their girls; since, they are considered a source of wealth. Parents deliberately subject girls in this act in order to marry the girls to older men in return of bride prize. Societies that practice this tradition consider the circumcised girls as having gone through a rite of passage that is vital when negotiating for dowry to be received by the bride’s family.

According to statistics there are about three million girls in Africa facing the danger of being circumcised every year. This is quite a great portion of individuals considering that there are only about 670 similar incidences in UK in the year 2016. The difference is majorly attributed to the fact that most of the African cultures do not prohibit female circumcision, there are no stringent laws that govern the practice, and due to the cultural beliefs and traditions. Globally, more than 140 million girls have gone through the dangerous act of FGM. This is more than twice the UK population. Somaliland is considered to possess the highest rates of FGM, 98% of the girls between the age of fifteen and nineteen years have undergone the cut.

Female genital mutilation is hugely prevalent in Africa, as it has been in existence for thousands of years as a traditional practice. It is deeply engrained in some social, economic, and political pillars. It is considered to bring pride and honor to a family, especially the parents if their daughter undergoes the procedure. On the other hand, elderly women that are key stakeholders in making decisions concerning the practice understand it as a vital part of girl’s societal and gender identity; a social necessity. The practice of FGM is exacerbated by the fact that men and boys socialize expecting to marry an individual that has undergone through that rite of passage. Therefore, girls undertake the cut due to peer pressure and fear of exclusion by the society. That put into consideration, the person’s attitude towards the act remains concealed; since, the community does not subject the practice to open public discussion. Although the society perceives FGM as a cultural issue, not a religious act and not inclined to one particular religion, it is practiced by a wide range of religious groups and misconstrued to be a pre-requisite to womanhood. Refusal to undergo the cut may lead to serious social consequences such as being excommunicated from one’s family, becoming an outcast, and in some cases being denied the freedom to speak in public. In most cases, even the girls that refuse to take part in the practice are forceful circumcised.

Female genital mutilation procedure

The act of mutilating female genitals is a cultural issue and mostly procured as traditional procedure. Therefore, elderly women are bestowed with the responsibility of conducting the cut. Most of them do not have medical training on how to perform a surgical operation. Tools used in the process are not properly sterilized and are used on multiple girls leading to severe infections. According to the WHO, genital mutilation is an infringement of the universal human rights under the category of child abuse.

FGM raises the chance of a girl needing an operation in future. For instance, for a girl who has undergone FGM whereby the vagina is narrowed, an operation to open up the vagina will be necessary, in order to enable sexual intercourse and childbirth. At times this procedure is repeated severally thereby causing pain to the victim every time it occurs.

Legal framework

Female circumcision is an offence that draws its authority from an Act of parliament that came into effect in 2004 and repealed by some sections in the Serious Crimes Act 2015. This law extends the limits of extraterritorial offences, accords victims of FGM perpetual concealment, and brings about a different offence of restraining to shield a child from the dangers of FGM. Additionally, the 2015 amendment insists that front line professionals are duty bound to report any FGM incidences. The section highlights various offences that are discussed below:

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The first to be criminalized are acts of female genital mutilation. It is illegal to actively procure an act of infibulate and other practices of partially or wholly removing a girl’s parts of the genitalia. However, there is an exemption to this offence. The Act further states the circumstances in which such surgical operations can be conducted and the individuals licensed to procure them. According to the Act, the law mandates a licensed medical practitioner. However, this is after the ascertainment that the surgical operation is important for physical or psychological wellbeing and in cases of giving birth.

The second offence involves aiding a girl to modify her own genitalia. If and individual abet a girl to mutilate her genitals, the person is considered a criminal by law. This is aimed at ensuring that incidences of FGM are reduced and make girls understand that they are solely responsible for their wellbeing.

The third offence involves abetting a foreigner to modify a girl’s genitalia overseas. It is illegal to undertake circumcision of a girl just because he is not a UK national and does not reside in the UK. This criminality is relevant if the person procuring the act is a UK national and does possess the pre-requisite qualification under the law.

The final offence is absconding the duty to protect a child from genital mutilation. In the law, if FGM is procured on a girl that is below the age of sixteen, the individual responsible for taking care of the girl is criminally liable. In this case, a person is taken to be liable if he or she is a parent to the child, or if the person frequently contacts with the girl.

Inadequacies of the law

Although the law is stringent on matters of FGM, there are defenses that a defendant can adduce before a court of law. These shields to an individual have made it impossible for successful prosecution of persons liable of these offences. The loopholes of the laws include the following:

It is a defense if the defendant proves that at the time occurrence of the crime, the accused thought that there was no substantial opportunity of FGM being acted on the girl and might not be in the know of expecting that there exists such a risk. Additionally, the person in charge of taking care of the girl took reasonable steps as expected to take in order to protect such a child from a possible harm. The provision of sufficient evidence to prove the identified defenses is necessary for a person to be vindicated of the charges.

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FGM Protection Order

Under section 5A of the 2003 Act on female genital mutilation, it provides for the constitution of FGM Protection Order that seeks to shield vulnerable girls from being subjected to FGM. These orders are obtained from the family or criminal court. It takes the procedure of civil law. The order may comprise of restrictions, prohibitions, and obligations, as the court deems appropriate. Profound examples include surrendering of passports, travel ban, and restricting others from making provision to conduct FGM.

Conclusion

Female genital mutilation is a crude method of initiating young girls into adulthood; since, most girls are married off immediately after the act has been procured on them. In an honest opinion, a lot needs to be done in order to eradicate this menace by 2030 in accordance with Sustainable Development Goals of 2015 by United Nations. It is evident that most of the societies that still practice this rite register low literacy levels among their members. Therefore, it is prudent to state that even though there are laws in place against FGM, the practice continues to thrive; since, the perpetrators are oblivious of the laws and are mostly illiterate. That said, it is important to acknowledge the role that campaigns against the act would play if well-structured policies against FGM are put in place and implemented in collaboration with the communities that practice the vice.

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