The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has supported the general principles of proposed new legislation that aims to strengthen legal protection for women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill will create a new court order, a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO), which can impose conditions or requirements on a person to protect a girl or woman from FGM, or to prevent further harm if FGM has already occurred. Breach of an FGMPO will be a criminal offence, with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for those convicted on indictment.
In its stage 1 report on the Bill, the Committee agrees that FGMPOs would strengthen protections, particularly for 16 to 17-year-olds, for whom existing child protection orders do not apply.
However, the Committee warns that FGMPOs cannot work without additional support for individuals and families, and calls on the Scottish Government to detail what further support can be put in place.
MSPs also urges the Scottish Government to consider what actions can be taken to remove barriers for those seeking legal assistance with FGMPOs, in what might be urgent and time-pressured situation for individuals unfamiliar with the legal system.
The Committee further calls on the Scottish Government to engage with women, communities and professionals in the development of statutory guidance and to set out how it will monitor and evaluate success.
Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:
“Female Genital Mutilation is a harmful, unnecessary practice that causes extreme physical and psychological harm to women and girls and violates their human rights.
“While FGM is already illegal, this legislation will provide an additional legal protection which will empower a person at risk to apply for a protection order, while also allowing a member of their family, social worker or police officer, to seek a court order to protect that person from harm.
“The Committee supports the general principles of this Bill, but calls on the Scottish Government to address a number of concerns raised by those who gave evidence to the Committee, particularly in relation to barriers to accessing support, resourcing of support services, and professional education and training.”
As part of its scrutiny, the Committee visited organisations who work with affected women and communities. Women were supported to share their experiences by creating short “digital stories” – a form of first-person narrative told in the teller’s own words and voice – which can be viewed on the Committee’s website.
Other conclusions and recommendations set out in the Committee’s report include:
- The Scottish Government should look at ways of supporting women and healthcare professionals outside of maternity services to talk about FGM.
- The Committee seeks more information from the Scottish Government on how FGM will be consistently built into the relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education as part of the curriculum.
- In the absence of automatic anonymity, the Committee considers that anonymity on request is a reasonable expectation for those at risk and calls on the Scottish Government to set out how this can be achieved.
The full stage 1 report is available here.
FGM, also referred to as “cutting”, “female circumcision”, and a wide range of traditional terms in different languages, is a procedure which involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
According to the Policy Memorandum, the aim of the Bill is to strengthen the legal protection for women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).
It will do this in two ways: by creating a new protection order, a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO), that can impose conditions or requirements on a person, breach of which will be a criminal offence; and making provision for statutory guidance on matters relating to FGM, and statutory guidance on FGM Protection Orders.
A court will be able to make an FGM Protection Order to protect a person at risk of being subjected to FGM. An application for a Protection Order will be able to be made by a person at risk or victim or survivor, a local authority, Police Scotland, the Lord Advocate or any other person with the permission of the court.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre has prepared a Briefing for the Bill.