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Live webchat with Norman Baker MP Home Office Minister on FGM. Thurs 6th Feb 12pm-1pm

(60 Posts)
KatieMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 05-Feb-14 22:23:37

Hello

Norman Baker MP is joining us on International Day for Zero Tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for a live webchat.

Norman Baker is Minister of State for Crime Prevention with responsibility for domestic violence, including forced marriage, honour-based killing and FGM.

You can find out more about FGM - what it is, its risks and practices - here.

FGM is illegal in the UK, but it is estimated that up to 20,000 girls in the UK are at risk of suffering genital mutilation, and that more than 60,000 women have already been cut. Despite recent statements from the CPS that a prosecution is close, no one in the UK has ever been charged.

Do read a recent guest post from FGM survivor and mother
Leyla Hussein - 'Making sure my daughter wasn't cut is my greatest achievement' - and a guest post from survivor Nimco Ali on why the government must act to stop more girls being cut.

Both women are co-founders of Daughters of Eve, a non-profit organisation that works to protect girls and young women who are at risk from FGM. Their stories are harrowing, but incredibly powerful.

You can also look back at our webchat with Lynne Featherstone, during which she answered questions on FGM in her capacity as International Development Minister

Please do post your questions below in advance or join us live between 12pm and 1pm on Thurs 6th Feb.

Thanks,
MNHQ

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:17:56

Blondieminx

Thanks for coming to MN smile

Are you aware of this petition at all, and please could you ask one of your staff to provide Mumsnet with an update today or tomorrow as to what the Education department's response is on this? Whole government support is vital with this issue.

Another question if I may, since the thread is quiet so far:

I understand your department is also responsible for domestic violence prevention. Please could you let us have an update on this Govt report fromlast year regarding the way Essex Police handles DV cases and whether your department is following up to address the concerns raised in the report? As you may be aware, the force was criticised after 4 women died at the hands of their abusive partners/husbands between 2008-2011. As you may be aware, when Christine Chambers was murdered, the killer also murdered the 2 year old daughter. They were both shot, and Ms Chambers's 10yo witnessed the attack but escaped. The IPCC report identified systemic failings in the way DV was dealt with by the force. Does your department have any response to this statement by Women's Aid calling for more police resources to be allocated for dealing with DV?

Thank you.

Yes I'm aware of the petition and so is DfE. I am conscious of the need to make progress. I have drawn this to the attention of the Education Secretary.

On the domestic violence front, the Home Secretary has commissioned the Police Inspectorate to do an all-force inspection of domestic violence and abuse to improve police response. We've also introduced Clare's Law and Protection Orders to provide more support.

In terms of the Essex case, we have now strengthened guidance on firearms to restrict access to firearms by those with a history of domestic violence.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:20:38

BarbiesBeaver

How aware are police forces of this issue? Do they have training in how to identify, investigate and prosecute these cases? Are there any active Police groups/campaigns looking into this issue?

I would also be very interested in what is being done globally to educate and help irradicate this horrible practise.

The Home Office has issued guidance to the police and I am following this through. In terms of what's happening elsewhere, my Lib Dem colleague at DfiD Lynne Featherstone is doing great work and has allocated £35m to help eradicate, and is engaging with African countries in particular. She has just returned from Burkina Faso.

Misspixietrix Thu 06-Feb-14 12:21:03

That's good news regarding raising awareness in Schools. How do you propose raising awareness in the communities? For the girls that aren't of pre-School age? Also how do you keep track of the 'Professionals' who offer such services? For want of a better word.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:23:25

OmNom

Hello,

How has the landscape changed as regards FGM in the UK, between (say) five years ago and now? Do you think there have been big policy changes, or changes in the way government and statutory agencies approach it?

I think we've made huge progress over that time in seeing greater public awareness which is so necessary if we are to see the cultural change which is key to eliminating this appalling practice. Govt departments are now much more joined (see today's declaration) and the law enforcement agencies are much more switched on. However there is still a great deal to do. The fact that the media esp the Evening Standard and the Guardian, are so engaged now is really helpful.

YoniMatopoeia Thu 06-Feb-14 12:25:30

Does girl who has been a victim of FGM have to complain or give evidence if this crime ever comes to court?

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:25:46

alicethecactus

Hi Norman, thank you for coming in to talk to us,

It's clear that FGM is a very traumatic process that has serious health implications for those subjected to it. I've heard people make the argument that the focus on FGM is disproportionate compared to the campaigning around male circumcision - which some view as equally bad. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on this subject, and whether you think the two are comparable?

I think the impact of FGM is much worse and the harm, both psychological and physical, is much greater.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:28:45

prupartyfrock

If you had to explain to someone who had never heard of FGM, how would you sum it up and explain all the issues around it succinctly?

My problem is that when I talk about something that is important to me and emotive I tend to end up in full on rant mode, which isn't very good for getting your point across!

Thanks in advance.

It is a deeply mistaken cultural practice that is very harmful to girls and women and has no place in a civilised society. The effects can and often are traumatic for life. Simply put, whatever the motives, it is child abuse and it is illegal.

Surely it has no place in any society sad

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:32:42

BeanAboutTown

Can you talk a bit about the cultural sensitivities involved with the FGM issue? Obviously FGM is horrendous and unacceptable, but it does feel at times as though the anti-FGM messaging is something that largely takes place between white, European/Christian-heritage people (hope I'm phrasing this sensitively...), rather than a conversation that's happening within the communities where FGM is actually happening. How do we stop this from being just another Guardian-reader do-gooder thing? The truth is, I don't think I know a single family where the girls are at risk of FGM because I live in a very non-diverse area - so I'm not sure what someone like me can usefully do.

I've been very keen to involve those in the communities where FGM is practise and to seek the engagement of, for example, religious leaders who can help dispel the notion that there is any religious basis whatsover for FGM - there isn't. I've met some deeply impressive women who had had to go through FGM, like Leyla Hussein, and who make great advocates for change. I have today launched a £100,000 community engagement initiative open to local groups to bid for to help spread the message where it can have most effect.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:36:50

LoveAndSqualor

Hi Norman, thanks for coming on.

Can I ask why YOU think no one's been successfully prosecuted for FGM yet? What are the barriers to prosecution, and what is your department doing to erode them? Given that domestic violence isn't a statutory offence, how is FGM defined under the law?

It's very frustrating to me that there have to date been no successful prosecutions. Partly this relates to the unwillingness of children to give evidence against their parents, partly that, to be honest, I don't think until recently that the police and DPP were treating the matter as seriously as they might have. That has now changed and both are fully engaged. the new DPP Alison Saunders is really good news and is presently looking seriously at 10 cases for possible prosecution. I am also looking at the legislation to see if it needs to be tweaked to eliminate loopholes.

In terms of the law, there is a clear and specific offence under a 2003 Act of Parliament.

Misspixietrix Thu 06-Feb-14 12:38:09

NormanBakerMP Re speaking with Religous leaders. It is a step but it is also important to note that the Practice wasn't so much a Religious Issue within the Community. It was simply a Cultural 'Tradition'.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:38:53

JackNoneReacher

Hi,

Would you agree that parents that mutilate their children (or are unable/unwilling to prevent someone else mutilating their children) should have their children removed?

Thanks.

FGM is child abuse and should be regarded as such. Having said that, it is sometimes carried out by parents who mistakenly and tragically think they are doing the right thing, unlike other child abuse. The issue comes down to whether the girl, or crucially any siblings, are thought to be at risk.

That's encouraging. I think it will begin to make a real difference when we see those first UK prosecutions. Let's hope so anyway.

Misspixietrix Thu 06-Feb-14 12:39:21

...in my experience.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:41:43

teaandcustardcreams

What do you think are the best methods for making more people aware of this issue? If very few victims come forward and unwilling to give evidence - what can we do to help prosecute these cases?

There is no one simple answer but it is a combination of:

1. Cultural engagement to change hearts and minds
2. Training for professionals in the field, including social workers, the police and teachers
3. Keeping the issue in the public eye (the Home Office's campaigns help in that regard)
4. Securing successful prosecutions both the communicate that the act is illegal (not everyone appreciates this) and also that those who engage in FGM can be held to account for it.

Under number 2 "training for ... teachers" let's not forget all the support staff working in schools now too ?

UnsureOfOutcome Thu 06-Feb-14 12:44:20

There are girls at my son's school (inner-city London) who, demographically, are in at-risk groups. It feels almost impossible from my point of view to do anything to support them, given that I'm making the assessment that they are at risk purely on the basis of race and religion. Is there ANYTHING people such as me can do, do you think, that doesn't risk being grossly offensive? What actions do you suggest members of communities where, one assumes, FGM takes places, should take?

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:45:20

TheGonnagle

Hello and thank you for coming to talk to us today. This year we received our mandatory safeguarding training and for the first time FGM was mentioned, albeit under the slightly misleading term female circumcision. I was shocked to discover that the majority of my colleagues were utterly unaware what it entailed and were under the impression that it was similar to male circumcision.
The issue was not fully addressed and it fell to me to really stress the importance of the issue and expand the discussion.
What are you doing to ensure that people in front line contact with vulnerable girls are aware of the dangers, repercussions and issues surrounding FGM?

We will be using money we have secured from the EU to undertake seminars with local safeguarding boards and (see above) ramping up the public awareness. But you're right. Personally although I had long been aware of FGM as a concept, it was only when I became a Home Office minister that I became aware of the graphic and horrific detail. It has made me quite angry and determined to pursue this issue.

Treaclepot Thu 06-Feb-14 12:48:46

More needs to be done in religious insitutions (for example mosques serving the somali community) and to get imans and other religious figures to actively condone these practices to men and women. Is anything being done on those lines?

Children need to be told very clearly who to tell and what will happen then otherwise they wont speak up.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:50:38

Misspixietrix

I spoke to a Journalist about this subject a while ago. I was from a mixed marriage where FGM is considered as normal as male circumcision in such a community. Most of the Mothers were cut as Children back in their Hometowns and 'didn't see anything wrong with it'. I know from discussions I have had that most don't know it is illegal - they had no Idea. Those that do know it's illegal know they can get round it just by taking their daughter home for a 'holiday' and no one will bat an eyelid. I think Education and Monitoring would be the right way to go about it and encouraging youg girls to speak up and tell someone they can trust. France checks girls under 6 I believe for any signs. Have you any plans to take something like that on board?

As mentioned above, we recognise the need for community engagement and awareness raising, both in the diaspora communities here in the UK and in countries where FGM is common, such as Egypt.

In terms of France, there is a debate to be had about the need to balance the identification of FGM and the highly intrusive actions that would be necessary to identify this. This issue remains open. What my colleague Jane Ellison at the Dept of Health has this week done is to require for the first time the reporting of FGM identified in acute hospitals

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:52:24

mousmous

hi,
thank you for doing this webchat.
my question is regarding the e-petition, which reached more than 100,000 signatures.
when will this be discussed in parliament and will it be broadcast?

If I remember correctly, any epetition that generates 100,000 signatures triggers a debate in Parliament. I would be very happy to see such a debate. You may want to ask your own MP to raise this suggestion in the House of Commons.

JackNoneReacher Thu 06-Feb-14 12:52:59

You say on the failure of prosecutions...

Partly this relates to the unwillingness of children to give evidence against their parents

Surely, especially in the case of a small child who is the victim of physical abuse the evidence of the visible damage is enough?

(I hope my tone doesn't come across wrong here I just feel so frustrated that some of the most vulnerable members of our society are being let down)

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:54:46

YoniMatopoeia

Does girl who has been a victim of FGM have to complain or give evidence if this crime ever comes to court?

Well it helps but it's not necessary if sufficient proof exists otherwise. We have recently taken steps to improve the court process for children (driven by sexual abuse cases) so that a child who has been traumatised once isn't then retraumatised by an alien and frightening court process.

NormanBakerMP Thu 06-Feb-14 12:57:07

JugglingFromHereToThere

Surely it has no place in any society sad

I agree wholeheartedly. We all need to work together - across departments, across local councils, across the voluntary sector, across the communities themselves to get the message across that this awful practice has no place in the UK or indeed anywhere in the world.

LineRunner Thu 06-Feb-14 12:58:17

Thanks, Norman. Please keep this up. We need change and we need prosecutions.

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