Holyrood committee backs general principles of FGM legislation
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 urge 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.
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.
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.