United Kingdom launches first FGM prosecutions

Date: 21st March 2014
Category: Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

In March 2014 the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom launched its first prosecution in relation to female genital mutilation (FGM).

Legislation was first introduced to explicitly prohibit the practice in 1985, and replaced in 2003, but until this month no prosecution had been brought. A doctor will face charges of carrying out the mutilation, while another man is to be charged with intentionally encouraging an offence of FGM.

The initial court hearings will take place on 15th April 2014.

Article 24 of the UNCRC requires that "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health..." and furthermore that "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children."

All violations of children's rights can legitimately be described as harmful practices, but the common characteristic of violations such as FGM is that they are based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition and are perpetrated and actively condoned by the child's parents or significant adults within the child's community. Indeed, they often still enjoy majority support within communities or whole states.

Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition are often perpetrated against very young children or infants, who are clearly lacking the capacity to consent or to refuse consent themselves. Assumptions of parental powers or rights over their children allow the perpetration of a wide range of these practices, many by parents directly, some by other individuals with parents' assumed or actual consent.

The International NGO Council on Violence against Children believes the continued legality and social and cultural acceptance of a very wide range of these practices in many states illustrates a devastating failure of international and regional human rights mechanisms to provoke the necessary challenge, prohibition and elimination.

Above all, there must be an assertion of every state's immediate obligation to ensure all children their right to full respect for their human dignity and physical integrity (Article 37 of the UNCRC).

The International NGO Council on Violence against Children released a report in 2012 titled "Violating children's rights: harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition." This short report is designed to complement other current activities in the UN system that are focusing on harmful practices and children and will hopefully lead to more effective action.

The oft-quoted mantra of the UN Study was "No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable." Tragically, many adults are still justifying even extreme violence, both physical and mental, on spurious grounds of tradition, culture or religion.