Jenny Marra MSP : Female Genital Mutilation

Speech in the Scottish Parliament


 

5 February 2014

 

Motion debated,

 

That the Parliament notes that 6 February is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation; considers that female genital mutilation is a severe abuse of human rights, in which women and girls can have their clitoris and labia cut and their vagina sewn up; understands that there are 3,000 women and girls at risk from female genital mutilation in Scotland and that this number is due to rise according to new population estimates in the 2011 census; understands that there has not been one single police report, prosecution or conviction for female genital mutilation despite renewed legislation passed by the Parliament in 2005; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to fund a scoping exercise to assess the scale of female genital mutilation across Scotland, and notes calls for this exercise to be comprehensive yet swift and to result in a further commitment for tangible action to tackle the human rights abuse of female genital mutilation in Scotland and protect those women and girls at risk of harm from what it considers this torture.

 

Tomorrow is international day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation: a day when the world will take a stand against child torture, the heinous physical abuse of women and a practice that has no place in society yet unfortunately still affects far too many across the globe today.

 

The World Health Organization estimates that between 120 million and 140 million women worldwide have been subject to female genital mutilation and that every year another 3 million girls become at risk of the procedure, which partially or wholly removes or injures their genitalia, for non-medical, mainly faith or tradition-based reasons.

 

I am glad that we have the opportunity today to add our opposition to that barbaric act in Scotland, because Scotland is by no means immune to it.

 

The Scottish Government estimates that as many as 3,000 girls in Scotland are at risk from female genital mutilation, and that number is set to grow with the new census population estimates.

 

Let us be clear: even if only one girl in Scotland was at risk from that torture, we must surely acknowledge that the severity of the crime still warrants robust action.

 

However, with 3,000 girls identified as possible targets of torture in our communities, it is absolutely astonishing that there have been no police reports filed with the Procurator Fiscal Service, no prosecutions and not one conviction for female genital mutilation in nearly 30 years of criminal law against it in this country.

 

The Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport (Shona Robison): I hear what Jenny Marra says, but the same is true for England and Wales, where the population is nearly 10 times that. I hope that she is not suggesting that there is something strange about the prosecution system in Scotland. The issue is very difficult to bring forward; I hope that the member accepts that the same is the case in England and Wales. It is a very sensitive issue.

 

Jenny Marra: I do not think that I made any comparison with the situation in England and Wales.

 

I am talking about the jurisdiction that we represent in Scotland.

 

Our criminal law has law against female genital mutilation.

 

In 2005, this Parliament re-established that law and made FGM an extraterritorial crime also.

 

I am just talking about the people whom we represent in this Parliament.

Female genital mutilation has been illegal across the United Kingdom and Scotland since 1985.

 

It was criminalised again in Scotland by the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005.

 

It would be remiss of us if the starting point in this debate was not to acknowledge that, despite the best will with which those acts were passed, our laws have failed to protect thousands of children at risk of torture in Scotland.

 

That is because even the best laws in the world become but lines on paper if they are not respected, enforced and given the resource to be effective.

 

The Equal Opportunities Committee’s inquiry into FGM, which is taking place now, has shown that much of what we know about FGM in Scotland is based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence.

 

We have two ways of looking at FGM. First, we can say that because we know so little, it is unlikely that FGM is a serious problem.

 

Secondly, we can take the view that, yes, we know little, but we will not risk the lives and long-term health of children and women in the hope that FGM is not as widespread as the numbers of those who are at risk would have us believe.

 

We can and must do better for those who have undergone FGM in Scotland, even if that means engaging with what the minister has described as the very sensitive issues of culture, race and the bodies of young girls.

 

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP): I am very interested in what Jenny Marra has said, but she will have to forgive me if I show my ignorance in asking this question—I just do not know the answer to it. How many complaints about this practice have been made to the police? If we knew that, it would help me to understand the scale of the problem that we face in the justice system.

 

Jenny Marra: Bruce Crawford asks a good question.

 

I have lodged several parliamentary questions about the amount of information that the police have on this matter.

 

Not one police report has been filed with the procurator fiscal.

 

It is my understanding that the police work with communities on this but my point is that more needs to be done; indeed, the purpose of this debate is to see what more can be done.

 

We know that 3,000 women—and with the new census figures, possibly more—are at risk in Scotland, and this child torture in our communities continues to happen.

 

For that reason, we must do more.  

 

We must work with communities that we know are engaged with FGM to challenge the deeply ingrained perception that it is okay to mutilate children in the name of faith or tradition.

 

Although it is important to do that through partnership working, education and building trust, it cannot also mean maintaining our woeful record of enforcing the law in this area—a law that I repeat is against child torture in Scotland.

 

Our public health, immigration and social services must work together better in partnership to provide services for FGM survivors.

 

After all, unless we build an environment where women and girls feel safe in coming forward and unless we create a viable alternative to undergoing the procedure in the first place, we will never be able to start identifying and reducing the risk.

The Scottish Government must lead the way in co-ordinating Scotland’s approach and response to FGM.

 

Without leadership, direction and a continuing focus on resources for tackling the problem, we will not be able to turn the trend of growing risk around for the better.

Although I warmly welcome the Government’s funding for a scoping exercise on the extent of FGM in Scotland as an important first step on the road to bettering our approach, that exercise must be the beginning not the end of our efforts.

 

As a result, I ask the Scottish Government to present the exercise’s findings to Parliament this spring along with an action plan for tackling FGM and details of the resources that will be dedicated to it.

 

The size and scale of the challenge of FGM is such that we must keep it in constant focus.

 

By committing to that action plan before Parliament tonight, the Government can acknowledge its role in leading that cause and that action.

 

There is no role for torture in Scotland’s communities—and that is exactly what FGM is.

 

It is child torture in our communities, and there is simply no role for child abuse.

Our laws have failed these children and we must now rededicate ourselves to making them work.

 

I hope that tonight the Government will commit to taking the action that I have suggested and that when we return to this chamber on next year’s international day of zero tolerance for FGM we have a more successful story to tell.

 

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