The U.K.’s failure to ever successfully prosecute a female genital mutilation case in a country where thousands of women are known to have undergone the procedure was declared a national disgrace by British lawmakers Sept. 15, according to a Fox News article from the same date.
The practice of female genital mutilation has been illegal in the U.K. since 1985. Teachers, health care professionals and social workers have been legally mandated since 2015 to report cases of genital mutilation in individuals under 18 they become aware of to law enforcement, according to a Nov. 3, 2015, Huffington Post article.
Female genital mutilation is a surgical procedure that alters or causes injury to female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits and can cause severe bleeding, problems with urination, cysts, infections and complications with childbirth, including increased risk of newborn death, according to the World Health Organization.
Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice, which in certain cases, makes people reluctant to criticize or prosecute it. However, with a procedure as dangerous as female genital mutilation, steps must be taken to protect women, especially those who go through the procedure unwillingly or without knowing the medical consequences.
Britain’s problem with prosecuting female genital mutilation cases is not unique. Female genital mutilation has been compared to sexual assault for its reputation as a difficult to prosecute and rarely reported crime.
Female genital mutilation became illegal in Egypt in 2008. However, there was not a successfully prosecuted case until years later when a doctor was sentenced to two years and three months in jail for manslaughter of a young girl who died during a procedure he performed, according to a Dec. 11, 2015, NPR article.
After avoiding arrest since sentencing in January 2015, the doctor surrendered but had reached an agreement with the family of the girl. He is only serving three months for performing the procedure, with the two years for manslaughter dropped, according to a July 29 BBC article.
In the U.S., female genital mutilation became illegal in 1996, but the number of girls under 18 at risk of undergoing the procedure in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1997 with an estimated 513,000 women and girls at risk, according to the AHA Foundation, an international women’s rights group.
Ending this practice internationally was declared part of the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of goals for the global community to be completed by 2030, from the United Nations.
“When this practice is fully abandoned, positive effects will reverberate across societies as girls and women reclaim their health, human rights and vast potential,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
The United Nations has even declared Feb. 6 as the “International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.”
The support for abolishing this procedure is apparent, but the laws are useless unless the reporting system is set up to support and affirm victims.
Women and as well as men need to be aware of the harmful effects of female genital mutilation and the need to set a precedent for how this crime should be treated. Women should not feel shamed or unsafe when they report something that negatively affects their emotional, mental and physical health.