MPs recommend tightening the law on female circumcision

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 02 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1365
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    Doctors may soon be required by law to report any cases of female genital mutilation that they encounter if MPs succeed in toughening measures to ban the practice.

    Although female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act. According to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, increasing numbers of women are being seen in hospitals and specialist clinics in the United Kingdom with complications after female genital mutilation.

    After hearing evidence last May from witnesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union on female genital mutilation and its repercussions, the group has now called on the government to toughen the measures to protect children and women from mutilation.

    “The practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] is a violation of human rights, and it is crucial that we raise awareness of the issue. It is clear that there is a growing problem of FGM in the UK,” said Christine McCafferty, MP and chairwoman of the all party group.

    In a report Ms Cafferty and other panel members called on the government to:

    • Change the law so that UK residents who take girls abroad to have them circumcised can be prosecuted when they return

    • Categorise female genital mutilation as a form of physical abuse under local authority guidance

    • Make it a legal requirement for health professionals and other relevant authorities to report all incidents of female genital mutilation

    • Publicise the act in a media campaign.

    • It is estimated that two million women and girls worldwide are at risk of female genital mutilation each year, though the figure for the United Kingdom is unknown.

    • The all party group conducted a survey of 106 UK and overseas health and welfare organisations, which showed that less than half of these were aware of the legal position on female genital mutilation.

    • A quarter of respondents also replied that they feared being perceived as racists or culturally insensitive when dealing with issues of female genital mutilation. “Cultures are only sacred if they are consistent with human rights,” said Ms McCafferty.

    The report and survey results are available on