Britain plans to tighten laws designed to protect girls

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LONDON — Parents in Britain who subject their daughters to genital mutilation will be prosecuted, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Tuesday, a day after new research showed that the number of victims of the practice here is about twice as high as previously believed.

The announcement, which came during a global Girl Summit co-hosted by the British government and UNICEF, heralds tougher legislation that for the first time makes it the parents’ responsibility to protect their children. Currently, it is only illegal to perform genital cutting or to take a girl out of the country for that purpose.

Addressing about 500 delegates — including government officials, victims and campaigners such as Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai — Mr. Cameron said he wanted to stamp out the practice “everywhere for everyone within this generation.”

“It is such a simple but noble and good ambition, and that is to outlaw the practices of female genital mutilation and childhood and early forced marriage,” he said.

A cultural rather than a religious practice, female genital mutilation mostly occurs in 29 African countries and in parts of Asia and the Middle East. It involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other types of injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons, according to the World Health Organization. Girls tend to be cut at a young age; generally, they are between infancy and age 15. An estimated 3 million are at risk worldwide every year.

Genital mutilation has been illegal in Britain since 1985, but the first prosecutions occurred only this year. Now, the British government is pledging about $2.4 million to set up a new service focused on preventing genital mutilation by identifying those at risk: teachers, social workers and health professionals are to receive specialized training, and police officers will be given guidance on how to handle new cases. Victims will be granted anonymity from the time an allegation of genital cutting is made.

Mr. Cameron, in remarks before the opening of the conference, said he hoped that Britain’s move would spark a wider prohibition of the practice. “All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage, or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation,” he said. “Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the U.K.”

Human rights groups welcomed Tuesday’s announcement, which they said puts Britain ahead of most other Western countries in attempting to tackle what has become a growing problem in recent years.

A report published Monday estimated that more than 137,000 women in England and Wales have undergone genital mutilation. The number has risen over the past decade, along with the number of female refugees arriving from conflict zones where the practice is common, according to the study by City University London and the human rights group Equality Now. An estimated 20,000 girls born in Britain are among those at risk.

The issue made headlines earlier this year, when then-Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to schools about the importance of remaining vigilant about genital mutilation facing female students, particularly before the summer holidays, when many girls are sent away to undergo the procedure.

Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now said the key to success was for the government to give the professionals involved in the new effort the resources and guidance needed to identify girls at risk. “We need a robust national plan,” she said. “There is no time to waste on platitudes as thousands of girls living in England and Wales are having their life blighted by this damaging practice.”

england - Europe - Western Europe - United Kingdom - David Cameron - United Kingdom government - Wales - Malala Yousafzai


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