Despite these laws, no one has ever been prosecuted for performing FGM. Victims are often afraid to speak out for fear of physical abuse or death threats, some involving paid hitmen.
British authorities are redoubling their fight against the spiraling problem of female genital mutilation (FGM) after a weekly primetime television show broadcast by the BBC forced the previously “taboo” subject into mainstream debate.
FGM is endemic in Muslim-majority countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Three million girls between infancy and age 15 are subject to FGM every year, and it is believed that 140 million women worldwide are suffering from the lifelong consequences of the practice.
FGM has emerged as a major problem in Europe due to mass immigration. The European Parliament estimates that 500,000 girls and women in the European Union are living with FGM, and every year another 180,000 girls in Europe are at risk of being “cut.”
Britain has the highest levels of FGM in Europe. According to a government-funded study published in 2007, at least 66,000 women and girls in Britain have had the procedure performed on them, and more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are currently at risk.
These figures, however, may be only the tip of the iceberg. A 2011 Department of Health policy paper warns that “it is possible that, due to population growth and immigration from practicing countries…FGM is significantly more prevalent than these figures suggest.”
FGM is thought to be common in Britain among immigrant groups from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kurdistan, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Northern Sudan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Yemen.
The Times of London has reported that circumcisers — also known as “house doctors” because they conduct the procedure in private homes — are often flown to Britain from Africa and the Middle East to carry out the mutilations.
Alternatively, families who have immigrated to Britain from countries where FGM is practiced may send their daughters back to those countries to undergo FGM there, ostensibly under the guise of visiting relatives.
According to The Guardian, the six-week-long school summer holiday in Britain is the most dangerous time of the year for these girls. It is a convenient time to carry out the procedure because the girls need several weeks to heal before returning to school.
Sometimes immigrants living in other European countries even send their daughters to Britain to have them mutilated there. In an interview with the BBC, Isabelle Gillette-Faye, an anti-FGM activist in France, recounts the story of two little girls about to board a train for London.
Gillette-Faye says: “It was a Friday. We heard just in time. They had tickets for Saturday. A family member tipped us off. We told the police and they were stopped from making the journey.” The parents were warned that if they would go ahead with the mutilations and be found out, they would be imprisoned for up to 13 years.
“In England,” she added, “you are very respectful of your immigrants. It is very different in France. They have to integrate and they have to obey our laws. We simply will not tolerate this practice.”
In Bristol, a city in southwest England with a sizeable immigrant community, it is believed that some 2,000 girls are at risk of “FGM parties.” According to the BBC, “They cut them all together, as a group, because it is cheaper and quicker that way. At first the girls are all excited because it’s a party, until they realize what is going to happen, and then they get frightened. It’s done by the elder women, or the Imam, whoever is expert at cutting.”
FGM has been a crime in Britain for more than 25 years. It was made a criminal offense by the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. That Act was superseded by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and (in Scotland) by the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005, both of which also introduce extraterritoriality. Taking a British citizen or permanent resident abroad for the purpose of FGM is a criminal offense whether or not it is lawful in the country to which the girl is taken.
Despite these laws — which carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for anyone convicted of carrying out FGM or helping it to take place — no one in Britain has ever been prosecuted for performing it.
One reason for the lack of prosecutions is the difficulty in gathering evidence because the victims of FGM are often afraid to speak out. Girls and women who do speak out against FGM have suffered verbal and physical abuse from adult men and women in their communities in London, Bristol, Cardiff and Manchester in attempts to silence them.
The Sunday Times recently reported that a 29-year-old British-Somalian woman named Nimko Ali had received death threats — a man she considered a friend had offered a hitman £500 ($775) to murder her — since going public in February as a victim of the practice. Intimidation also involves threatening phone calls, emails, texts and tweets.
Another reason for Britain’s dismal record at bringing perpetrators to justice is tolerance of FGM due to political correctness and concerns over “cultural sensitivity.” Although the mainstream media routinely take pains to avoid any insinuation that FGM has anything to do with Islam, doctrinally, historically, geographically and juridically, the practice is intrinsically linked to Islam. As a result, there is a reluctance to tackle FGM because doing so is perceived as attacking Islam. This, however, may be about to change.