March 14, 2015
Outlaw 'designer vagina' surgery, say MPsHome affairs committee says FGM Act should be expanded to cover cosmetic procedures that have no medical purpose, though government says this is already covered in law
by Alexandra Topping
Genital surgery to create so-called “designer vaginas” should be outlawed under legislation designed to prevent female genital mutilation, according to a group of MPs.
A report from the home affairs select committee has called the laws governing female genital cosmetic surgery ambiguous and said the 2003 FGM law must be changed so it covers the procedures, which have no medical purpose.
“We cannot tell communities in Sierra Leone and Somalia to stop a practice which is freely permitted on Harley Street,” said Keith Vaz, the chairman of the select committee.
(a)a surgical operation on a girl which is necessary for her physical or mental health..
The select committee also risked creating a diplomatic spat with the Royal Colleges – which represent medical professionals – accusing their members of not doing enough “to encourage their members to report cases of FGM”.
The report notes that in Heartlands hospital in Birmingham, 1,500 cases of FGM were recorded over the past five years, with doctors seeing six patients who have undergone the procedure each week. “There seems to be a chasm between the amount of reported cases and the lack of prosecutions,” it says. “Someone, somewhere is not doing their job effectively.”
The first ever FGM case was brought to trial this year, but in February the NHS doctor Dhanuson Dharmasena, 32, was acquitted in less than 30 minutes amid claims that the Crown Prosecution Service had brought the case because of political pressure.
Given the failure of the prosecution, there may be an “even greater reluctance” to report, the study said, but it urged the Royal College of GPs to give training to every doctor about FGM: “Doctors are on the front line. Their professional organisations must do more to encourage their members to report cases of FGM. Without their active reporting of these cases, the full extent of FGM will remain hidden.”
Decrying the prevalence of FGM in the UK and the lack of prosecutions, the report accused the Crown Prosecution Service, police and health professionals of playing pass the parcel.
“The DPP informed the committee that she could only prosecute on the basis of evidence, the police said that they could only investigate on the basis of referral, and the health professionals told us that they could not refer cases because their members were not fully trained and aware of the procedure,” it states. “While agencies play pass the parcel of responsibility, young girls are being mutilated every hour of every day. This is deplorable.”
The select committee welcomed the government’s decision to make reporting FGM mandatory, but said it remained unclear what would happen in the event that a professional should fail to make a report. It called on the government to set out the sanctions that would apply and establish an advisory panel of FGM campaigners, to be consulted before any major policy decisions are taken.
Equality Now, a campaign group, said the focus should not be on prosecution, but prevention.
“Mandatory reporting should go hand-in-hand with mandatory training of those professionals who have a child safeguarding obligation,” said Mary Wandia, the FGM programme manager at Equality Now. “Such training is urgently needed and is the next step. It should come before holding those people to account.”