Anti-FGM legislation and court cases in Europe
Legal framework in Europe
In Europe, FGM is criminalized in all 27 EU member staters as well as in other countries, either through specitif legislation or a specific or general provision in the criminal code. The principle of extraterritoriality is applicable – meaning that a person can be condemned for having performed or have had performed FGM on a girl or woman in another country – but in some countries the extraterritoriality is dependent on either the victims and/or the suspects connection with the country.
Child protection laws are applicable to FGM in Europe as it is considered a form of child abuse. In the US FGM is illegal in all States, either by targeted anti-FGM laws (33 states), or by general laws against child abuse and assault. Up to this day there have been few prosecutions in low-prevalence countries. (Aha Foundation, 2019; Berer M., 2015; Australian Human Rights Commission, 2016; Johnsdotter S., Mestre R. M., 2015; Johnsdotter S., 2019)
The 2011 “Istanbul convention”, or Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, was signed by EU member states and has since been ratified by the majority. This is the first legally binding instrument in Europe on preventing violence against women and domestic violence, protecting victims and punishing perpetrators. The comprehensive nature of the convention makes it a practical tool to address FGM. It incorporates existing international human rights law, standards and promising actions to address violence against women. It offers policy makers a wide variety of measures that can be introduced, and offers NGOs and civil society a sound basis for advocacy. To women and girls already affected by FGM, it sends the message that their stories are being heard. This an interesting document as it goes beyond looking at FGM solely from a criminality perspective. The End FGM European Campaign guide on the Istanbul Convention highlights how the convention can be used to combat FGM as well as a number of promising practises. (The Council of Europe, End FGM European Network, Amnesty International, 2014) Legal sanctions are “by far the most common response adopted by African governments to address FGM/C”. (Nabaneh S., Muula S. A., 2019)
FGM court cases in Europe
France, where FGM was criminalized as early as 1983, is often cited as an example of good practice in the implementation of the law to tackle FGM in Europe. The practice can lead to 10 years in prison or 20 years if the victim is under 15 years. Until 2014, more than 40 FGM cases were brought before criminal courts, and around 100 people were prosecuted, most in the mid-1990s. According to UEFGM platform, “the comparatively high number and visibility of cases prosecuted has played a major part in raising awareness within families and the general public” and the trials, together with community initiatives, have resulted in a decrease in prevalence since the 1980s. Currently, France is the only country to have prosecuted a substantial number of persons for practising FGM. (Berer M., 2015; United to End FGM)
In the UK, the first law criminalizing FGM was passed in 1985 and was revised in 2003. In 2015 several measures against FGM were included in the Serious Crimes Bill, including: “making it illegal to fail to protect a girl from FGM, possibility to apply for a travel restriction for girls at risk, genital examinations, anonymity for victims to encourage reporting, a lower burden of proof than before.” The first trial concerned a doctor who had treated an infibulated woman during an emergency delivery in 2013. The doctor, and another man who had been charged, were finally acquitted. This trial was criticized as reports indicated that the government was under pressure to have a “show trial” because no prosecution had taken place despite the law and several years of investigating potential cases. (Berer M., 2015, )
Below we are listing the main FGM court cases in Europe (as of July 2021):
- Switzerland (2018): A Somali woman from canton Neuchâtel was sentenced to eight months’ prison over the genital mutilation of her two daughters, in the first Swiss case of its kind after a law change. The FGM had been performed abroad.
- UK (beginning 2019): In a first case in the UK, in February 2019, a woman was found guilty for having performed FGM on her 3 year-old daughter. Ths sentencing was later suspended.
- Ireland (end 2019): A court jury found a married couple guilty of carrying out FGM on their one- year old daughter.
- Finland (2019): First FGM Case brought to court, defendant declared not guilty
- Russia (2020): Russia, who does not have a specific law against FGM, had its first trial in 2020 in the case of a nine-year old girl who was subjected to FGM in a clinic in Magas, the capital of the Northern Caucasus region of Ingushetia (Russian Federation) at her father’s initiative. The mother of the girl did not consent to the operation and pressed charges against the gynaecologist who performed the operation, who is now under trial.
- Portugal (2021): A woman whose daughter underwent FGM during a trip to Guinea Bissau, in 2019, was sentenced to three years in prison. This sentence was suspended in July 2021. Read the CoP report of the Portugal case here.
- Greece (2019): Law 4619/2019 criminalised FGM through a specific provision in the penal code
- Finland is in the process of adding to the Penal Code a specific offence on FGM (so far they criminalise FGM only through general provision)
Other good practices for legal implementation
It is not enough to have a law. Enacting a law sends a strong message but this is weakened if there is no awareness of the law among the population. In this regard, examples of promising practises can be found here (Council of Europe, 2017).
During the 2019 discussion, the End FGM European Network highlighted a few good practices:
- Statement documents: Some Network members have been working with their governments to produce statements opposing FGM (UK, Netherland, Germany). This is an official document in various languages outlining the health risks and the fact that FGM is a criminal offence in Europe.
- Protection orders: Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders (FGMPOs) offer a legal means to protect and safeguard victims and potential victims of FGM. FGMPOs are granted by a court and are unique to each case. They contain conditions to protect a victim or potential victim from FGM. This could include, for example, surrendering a passport to prevent the person at risk from being taken abroad for FGM or requirements that no one arranges for FGM to be performed on the person being protected. The UK issues the highest number of protection orders.
A 2021 report by the END FGM European Network sheds light on laws, policies and practices in 7 European Union Member States (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain), uncovers trends and differences among these European countries, and highlights promising practices looking particularly at 5 key aspects of the asylum sector in the context of asylum claims on the ground of FGM: qualification, procedures, reception conditions, data collection and integration. (End FGM European Network, 2021, c)
- For more information about law and policy aginst FGM in Europe see the End FGM European Network mapping.
- You can also read the 2019 reflections on anti-FGM law in low-prevalence countries here.
“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.
The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.
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