FGM trial reaction: Education is the answer, Ramfel says

Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena

Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Education across the board will help end the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in this country.

That is the view of Rita Chadha, of Ilford-based charity Ramfel (The Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London) following the acquittal of Clayhall doctor Dhanuson Dharmasena last week at Southwark Crown Court.

The highly dangerous practice, which can result in death, was made illegal in the UK in 1985.

There has never been a conviction despite an estimated 66,000 women living here with the consequences of FGM, according to NHS figures.

In France, though, there have been around 100 people jailed since FGM was defined as a crime in 1983.

Ms Chadha believes awareness of the cultural practice – carried out commonly in sub-Saharan Africa – needs to be increased.

New UK research suggests 35 per cent – more than one in three people – do not understand the term FGM.

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“If you look at all the [care] strategies and what is said locally by authorities, FGM is only a small part of that,” said Ms Chadha, who recorded three FGM cases last year working at Ramfel.

“We need to be more focused on talking about it. It is all about education and raising awareness in schools.”

The Ramfel chief executive revealed one local council took six weeks to respond after being approached with the details of one FGM case.

“By the time the council got back to us, the woman was afraid to take it further,” Ms Chadha said.

Bushra Tahir from Awaaz, a women’s support group in Ilford Lane, Ilford, said education needs to start with the parents.

She said: “We have to make parents understand – these are your loved ones, these are your children and you’ve got to tackle the grass roots.

“If we tackle what’s happening at the bottom, or offer more help, it will be possible for girls to live safely,” she said.

Since 2003, any adult caught taking a child out of the country to be cut faces 14 years in prison.

“We have to make parents understand,” she added. “These are your loved ones, these are your children and you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years old. Most commonly before puberty starts.

The procedure is traditionally performed by a woman with no medical training.

The NHS estimates more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year.

It only became mandatory for doctors to record if a woman had FGM last year.

There is no requirement of doctors to ask every girl or woman if they have had FGM.