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Ethics briefings
  1. Martin Davies,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Eleanor Chrispin,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian Sheather

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Female genital mutilation

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Female Genital Mutilation (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) Act 2003.1 i The Act makes it an offence for any person to excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a female's labia majora, labia minora or clitoris, or to aid, abet, counsel or procure the mutilation by another person. The exception is where a surgical or obstetric procedure is clinically indicated. There has long been UK legalisation against female genital mutilation (FGM) but the 2003 Act extended the criminal offence to UK nationals and permanent residents who are overseas, including in countries where the practice is legal. A person found guilty of an offence under the Act can be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Precise figures for the number of girls and women who have undergone, or who are at risk of FGM, in the UK, are hard to establish because of the secrecy surrounding the practice. It is estimated, however, that over 21 000 girls under the age of 15, in England and Wales, are at high risk of FGM.2 Despite this prevalence, recent clinical and policy guidelines3 ,4 and the legislative framework to prosecute, there have been no prosecutions for FGM in the UK. Worryingly, there is a suggestion that some girls are being brought to the UK for FGM, as the UK is seen as having ‘fewer controls’ and ‘less awareness about FGM’. A recent quote in the BMJ noted ‘People from many countries in Europe go to the UK for this purpose’.5

In response to the lack of prosecutions, in November 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service launched an action plan for improving prosecutions. Action points include: gathering more robust data on allegations of FGM; raising with Ministers what the existing reporting …

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  • i In Scotland the equivalent legislation is the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2005.

  • ii See, for example: Care2 petition site. Liverpool Care Pathway: A National Scandal. (accessed 11 Jan 2013).

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