On Thursday 16th July, BHRC hosted a seminar at Doughty Street Chambers where a diverse panel discussed the introduction of FGM Protection Orders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The changes succeeded an investigation into the Government’s failure to protect those within its jurisdiction against FGM. In February 2014, the BHRC gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that the UK was failing to meet its positive obligations under international law to protect those at risk of FGM. One of the BHRC’s original recommendations within that evidence was the introduction of civil protection orders for potential victims of FGM.
Following a Ministry of Justice consultation (to which the BHRC submitted a comprehensive response) the recommendation for protection orders has been brought into force under the Serious Crime Act 2015.
The seminar began with a poignant video documenting the widespread practice of FGM domestically and globally. The clip featured a PhD student who had undergone FGM in Malaysia. Her words alarmed the audience: “It took me 30 years to ask my Mum what was done to me…”
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the BHRC, introduced the panellists and gave a brief overview of the BHRC’s previous work on FGM in conjunction with Unicef in Nigeria.
Alimatu Dimonekene, Prevention Caseworker and Trainer with first-hand experience of FGM, highlighted the connection between cultural norms and cutting in the UK, which exist to “curtail a woman’s sexuality.” Drawing on her own experience of the significance of tradition in FGM-practising communities, Alimatu explained the socio-cultural obstacles that judges and lawyers will face.
Seema Malhotra MP is the Shadow Home Office Minister for Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls. Seema offered an insight into the motivation behind moving FGM matters into the civil sphere. She emphasised the critical role individuals, communities and public bodies will play alongside the new law.
Zimran Samuel, BHRC Executive Committee member, is a leading barrister in family and human rights law. Zimran contrasted the existing criminal laws on FGM with the new preventative civil law. It is hoped that civil protection orders will encourage rather than deter court applications by young girls or others suspicious of a potential FGM threat. Zimran further stated that legal aid would be available in FGM cases.