Jenny Marra MSP : Human Rights 

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

10 December 2013

It is particularly appropriate that we gather in the chamber today on international human rights day, and on a day that is marked by such a momentous occasion as the passing of Nelson Mandela and the events that are taking place in Soweto as we speak.

I hope that today gives us some inspiration for action.

The Labour amendment proposes action on human rights that is not constrained by the current constitutional settlement.

It pleads with the Government for action on a very important human rights abuse in our communities—female genital mutilation.

However, what we are proposing is completely within the powers of this Parliament, this Government and this constitutional settlement.

I hope that the minister will seriously consider our amendment.

I welcome the action plan for human rights, not least for its honesty about our often limited success in embedding human rights in the policies and laws that we pass in this chamber.

There must always be that balance.

From the Cadder judgment and the emergency legislation that followed, to the cuts to legal aid that left article 6 questions unanswered, to the fact that we find one victim of human trafficking every four days in our communities in Scotland, it is clear that sometimes we act adequately, but also that we sometimes fall short of what is expected of us.

Our amendment asks the Government to take action in one of those areas.

There are 3,000 women and girls living in Scotland today who are at risk of, or who have undergone, some of the most barbaric acts of torture and child abuse imaginable—in this country, against our current law.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP): I thank Jenny Marra for taking an intervention. I know of her interest in the subject. When I was a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee we inquired into the matter of female genital mutilation and we went out and visited groups of women. Jenny Marra said that 3,000 women in Scotland are either in danger of going through or have gone through that horrific treatment. When members of the committee, including members of the Labour Party, went out to visit those groups of women, we did not find 3,000 women. I would be interested to hear where Jenny Marra got the numbers from.

Jenny Marra: I got the numbers from the Minister for Public Health, Michael Matheson, who said just a few weeks ago in the chamber that 3,000 women are at risk in Scotland, but the numbers could be higher as a result of the 2011 census, which has just been published.

These women and girls have had their clitoris cut out of their vagina.

They have had their labia sliced off with a knife or a razor and have been sewn up like rag dolls, only to have been unsewn again for sex or childbirth.

These women and little girls suffer from chronic psychological and physical pain and can be left infertile.

On occasion, they simply bleed to death.

Female genital mutilation is a crime in Scotland.

It has been banned since the 1980s and further measures were put in place when this Parliament passed an act in 2005 making it illegal in Scots law for a Scottish resident to be taken to a third country to have it done.

Despite three decades of criminal law against this torture and despite there being so many women at risk, there has been not one conviction and not one prosecution—not even one police report has ever been filed on female genital mutilation in Scotland.

Last month, persistent work by a dedicated Scottish journalist reported that Scotland is seen as a soft touch for genital mutilation.

Agencies are saying that girls are being brought to Scotland from England and Europe, because it is a safe place for this torture to be carried out—it will be neither detected nor prosecuted in this country.

It is mutilation and it is torture.

We should challenge the patriarchal myth that it is female circumcision—it is not. Circumcision is a medical procedure with clear health benefits.

There are no such advantages to genital mutilation.

Earlier this year I asked the Minister for Public Health how many women and girls are at risk of genital mutilation in Scotland.

He responded by telling me that the number who are at risk is likely to be “significantly higher” than 3,000 with new population figures from the 2011 census.

I hope that that answers Sandra White’s question.

We simply do not know how much higher the figure is.

The Scottish Government has not tried to scope the extent of this human rights abuse in Scotland, much less to challenge it.

Why? It is because it involves little girls, their genitals, race and where they come from.

It involves challenging a culture in which many women who have undergone FGM themselves still believe that it is an acceptable practice.

As we stand here today on international human rights day and recommit to advancing the rights of every person in Scotland, I do not believe that our health professionals, our social services, our police and our charity workers can begin to undermine the practice of FGM while respecting those sensitivities.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I think that everybody will agree with what Jenny Marra said about the crime that she has described. However, forced marriages are still happening in Scotland. All kinds of things are happening. The motion really incorporates all of that, rather than singling something out. Jenny Marra might have brought her own debate on this one subject—and endorsed the generalisation of the minister’s motion.

Jenny Marra: Presiding Officer, can I have a little more time to address that?

The Presiding Officer: I will tell you when you should stop.

Jenny Marra: Thank you.

We have lodged our amendment because I do not believe that FGM is specifically mentioned in the human rights strategy and, given recent press reports and concerns, it is something that needs to be looked at urgently, so I wanted to draw it to the minister’s attention today. We already have the law on it, but we could easily put together an action plan to delve into our communities and prevent it.

Legislation is not enough: we have legislation and it is not working.

The crime goes on because it is neither detected nor prosecuted.

Are the right questions being asked in the situations where FGM can be detected, such as pregnancy screenings?

I understand that they are not, and the public health minister was unable to assure me that they were when I asked him that in the chamber.

Nicola Sturgeon said this morning that human rights would be better in an independent Scotland.

I am asking the Scottish National Party to make human rights more meaningful for the 3,000 women who are at risk of FGM today in our communities.

Law is one thing, but action in our communities is what is needed to prevent FGM; that is what we are asking for. I hope that other parties will support the amendment that is in my name.

I move amendment S4M-08544.1, to insert at end:

“; notes the risk of female genital mutilation in Scotland; further notes that there have been no prosecutions for female genital mutilation despite the fact that 3,000 women in Scotland are at risk; further notes the Scottish Government’s information that the number at risk is likely to be ‘significantly higher’ in light of new data in the 2011 census, and asks the Scottish Government to bring forward a strategy in the next six months to prevent female genital mutilation and enforce the existing legislation”.

Video of Jenny's speech



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