Scotland's national action plan to prevent and eradicate FGM

The national action plan to prevent and eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) sets out the objectives, actions and responsibilities required to drive and deliver change.

Section 1 Background and Context

What is Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM)?

Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation ( WHO [4] ) as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM is often associated with honour-based violence ( HBV) which can include forced and child marriage. HBV is a form of violence that occurs within a family or community and has to do with defending dictates of honour. According to the definition entered in the UN Beijing Platform for Action, honour-based violence is one form of violence against women and girls, the key point being that women are being subjected to violence because of their gender.

FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. There can also be significant psychological and psychosexual impacts.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four types:

1. Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

2. Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are 'the lips' that surround the vagina).

3. Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

4. Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area [5] .

Why is FGM practised?

The origins of FGM are complex and go back thousands of years. It is a cultural practice, which does not have any basis in any religion, although there is a commonly-held misconception in some communities that it is a religious requirement, and is commonly seen as a rite of passage to adulthood and a prerequisite for marriage. For some women in certain communities, marriage and reproduction are the only means to ensuring economic security and social status. Without undergoing FGM, a woman may be denied the right of marriage, with the potential consequence of casting her out from society. It is also important to acknowledge that not all girls and women from 'practising communities' are at risk of FGM, as initiatives in families, communities and their countries of origin are having an impact on changing attitudes towards the practice.

The scale of the issue globally

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut or undergone some other form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated. [6] The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrant and diaspora communities from these areas.

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. There are an estimated three million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. [7]

International context

Female Genital Mutilation, in any form, is recognised internationally as a gross violation of human rights of girls and women. The practice denies women and girls their right to:

  • physical and mental integrity;
  • freedom from violence;
  • the highest attainable standard of health;
  • freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex;
  • freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments;
  • life, when the procedure results in death.
  • These rights are protected in several international instruments including:
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR);
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ( ICESCR);
  • Convention Against Torture, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW);
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child ( CRC).

Regional human rights instruments including:

  • The European Convention of Human Rights;
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Article 24 of the CRC calls for the prohibition of all traditional practices that are prejudicial to the health and wellbeing of children across the globe and the UN has called for the elimination of FGM in all girls under 18 years of age, and that all states which accede to CEDAW should take urgent steps to eliminate FGM.

International human rights bodies have set standards which address FGM and the human rights it violates. These international and regional standards require countries to fulfil their human rights obligations by protecting women and girls at risk of FGM.

The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women [8] defines FGM as a form of violence against women. Article 5 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa requires states to prohibit traditional practices that are harmful to women, including FGM, and to take all necessary measures, legal or otherwise, to protect women from FGM.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention [9] , is the first European treaty specifically devoted to addressing violence against women, including Female Genital Mutilation and was signed by UK Government on 8 June 2012.

FGM constitutes a form of gender-related persecution under the 1951 Refugee Convention that can be related to the grounds of political opinion, membership of a particular social group or religious beliefs. FGM is mentioned as an example of persecution based on membership of a particular social group in the EU Qualification Directive, and also constitutes 'serious harm' in the context of the qualification for subsidiary protection under Article 15 of the EU Qualification Directive.

FGM in the Scottish context

Whilst some of our communities in Scotland may be affected by FGM, not all women and girls from ' FGM practising countries' are at risk. Therefore, an understanding of the complexities of the issues will continue to be a key requirement in our future work to prevent violence against women and girls. With this in mind, we are continuing to build upon the work that we have already taken forward in this area to deepen our understanding and to inform our processes around the development of outcomes and interventions.

There are no clear and robust figures for the prevalence of FGM in Scotland because of the hidden nature of the crime. In its report, Tackling FGM in Scotland - towards a Scottish model of intervention [10] , the Scottish Refugee Council analysed existing census, birth register and other administrative data seeking to estimate the size and location of communities affected by FGM in Scotland. Based on the data available and its many limitations, the report did not seek to determine 'prevalence' of FGM, but rather found that:

  • there were 23,979 men, women and children born in one of the 29 countries identified by UNICEF (2013) as an ' FGM-practising country', living in Scotland in 2011. There are communities potentially affected by FGM living in every Scottish local authority area, with the largest being in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee respectively;
  • 2,750 girls were born in Scotland to mothers born in an FGM-practising country between 2001‑2012.

Currently there is no available data on ethnicity or other variables affecting the practice of FGM in communities, so it's not possible to determine how many people in these communities are likely to be directly affected by FGM.

2011 census data on country of birth and ethnicity demonstrates that ethnic diversity in Scotland has grown over the last decade, with population growth becoming increasingly dependent on international migration. For example, the African population in Scotland has grown from 5,000 in 2001 to 30,000 in 2011. [11] With the introduction by the UK Government of the dispersal of asylum seekers to Glasgow in 2000, new refugee communities have also begun to settle in Scotland. A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees observes that 2401 women from FGM‑practising countries sought asylum in the UK in 2011, and over 20% of women seeking asylum in the UK from 2008-2011 were from FGM-practising countries. [12] Given that in the last decade around 10% of people seeking asylum in the UK annually have been dispersed to Glasgow by the UK Government, [13] it is likely that some of these women now live in Scotland.

FGM is a global issue and we recognise that we can inform best interventions in Scotland by adopting and adapting good practices from other countries around the world, including Europe and the rest of the UK, and working to deliver them in partnership with key experts, professionals and potentially affected communities in Scotland.

Legislation in Scotland

FGM has been unlawful in Scotland since 1985. [14] The Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 [15] re-enacted the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 and extended protection by making it a criminal offence to have FGM carried out either in Scotland or abroad by giving those offences extra-territorial powers. The Act also increased the penalty on conviction on indictment from 5 to 14 years' imprisonment.

The Scottish Government worked collaboratively with the UK Government to close a loophole in the law in the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 to extend the reach of the extra-territorial offences in that Act to habitual (as well as permanent) UK residents by means of a Legislative Consent Motion ( LCM) in the Serious Crime Act 2015. The Serious Crime Act 2015 [16] received Royal Assent on 3 March 2015 and the provisions for Scotland commenced 3 May 2015.

Current cross-government policy areas

We recognise the holistic approach needed to end FGM and this includes the integration of FGM into wider Scottish Government policy, such as Health and Social Care, Education, Justice and Communities, and programming in GIRFEC, child protection, gender equality and other forms of honour based violence, in particular child and early forced marriage.

Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) for FGM

GIRFEC [17] plays a significant role in protecting potential victims of FGM and in supporting victims of FGM.

GIRFEC is a consistent way for public services to work with all children and young people. It's the overarching policy and approach for all children's services and should also be used by practitioners in adult services who work with parents or carers.

The approach helps practitioners focus on what makes a positive difference for children and young people - and how they can act to deliver these improvements. Getting It Right for Every Child is being threaded through all existing policy, practice, strategy and legislation affecting children, young people and their families.

The GIRFEC approach should lead to early and effective intervention at any point in in a child's life where that is necessary to improve wellbeing outcomes. By acting to support wellbeing as soon as needs or concerns are identified and well before crisis points are reached, the approach ensures that every child is supported in a timely and proportionate way. A key element of the GIRFEC approach is making available a Named Person for every child up until they are 18 years or leave school if this is later. This provides the child and family with a single point of contact where they can seek information, advice, support or help. The Named Person is also a single point of contact for other practitioners who have wellbeing concerns regarding a child.

The National Child Protection Guidance provides a national framework within which agencies and practitioners at local level - individually and jointly - can understand and agree processes for working together to support, promote and safeguard the wellbeing of all children. The revised National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland, published in May 2014, provides a clear definition of what abuse is. It sets out our expectations for all individuals working with children and young people to identify and act on child protection concerns. The revised guidance contains a strengthened section on FGM.

The Children and Young People Act

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 is rooted in the Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) approach, and puts a number of key duties and provisions into statute, including a framework for the assessment of wellbeing (Part 18, section 96), making available a Named Person for every child (Part 4) and for every child who needs one, a statutory planning framework in terms of a single Child's Plan (Part 5). These duties and provisions are due to come into force in August 2016, subject to consultation. These provisions and duties will ensure that public services who come in contact with children and families work together to address wellbeing concerns including risks to the wellbeing of a child through FGM. The Act will ensure that appropriate and proportionate information is shared and action is taken when there is a risk to the wellbeing of a child, this includes sharing of information in relation to adults when this is necessary even where there is a duty of confidentiality.

Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights, and the international human rights framework

Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights ( SNAP) [18] is a roadmap for the realisation of all internationally recognised human rights. It is based on evidence and broad participation. It has been developed by a Drafting Group from across the public and voluntary sectors and overseen by an Advisory Council whose members reflect the diversity of Scottish civic life. SNAP's vision is of a Scotland in which everyone is able to live with human dignity. SNAP will coordinate action by a wide range of public bodies and voluntary organisations towards achieving this vision. It contains agreed outcomes, priorities and a process for working together from 2013-2017 to progressively realise the potential of human rights in all areas of life. There is a specific objective to enhance respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights to achieve justice and safety for all. The research underpinning SNAP recognises that Scotland's approach to addressing violence against women and girls has been widely praised.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 [19] places a duty on public bodies to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimisation of individuals; advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not and to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. Identifying and responding to needs of those affected by gender-based violence, including FGM, is one way in which many public agencies are working meet their responsibilities under the Act.

The role of the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee ( EOC)

During 2014, the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee [20] took evidence from stakeholders and Scottish Government officials on what is being done to tackle FGM in Scotland. The convener of the committee also met with the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights to hear about ongoing work. The Equal Opportunities Committee maintains a keen interest in the work being carried out in Scotland to eradicate FGM.


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