Opinions split over Hackney MP’s call for mandatory inspections of schoolgirls to secure FGM prosecutions

Hawa Sesay

Hawa Sesay - Credit: Archant

A victim of female genital mutilation who set up a charity to tackle the issue is supporting an MP’s call for compulsory medical checks on schoolgirls – and believes it should start at nursery level.

Hawa Sesay, who had the archaic disfigurement practice inflicted on her aged 13 in Sierra Leone and who now runs the Hawa Trust in Homerton Road, Homerton, said she was behind Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott’s stance on introducing routine inspections in the UK as a way of securing prosecutions.

Ms Sesay attended the Commons Home Affairs Committee debate on the issue on Monday last week when Ms Abbott called for the checks – something that is undertaken by authorities in France who have allegedly secured 100 prosecutions since the early eighties.

She said: “If I had not said that I was mutilated at 13, nobody would know. If a school finds any girl has been mutilated then they can ask her who did it, which can lead to those responsible being prosecuted. You have to check whether girls come from a particular area where FGM is practiced or whether her parents come from such countries. That way we will know that she’s at risk.

“I don’t think we are demonising a community. We are campaigning about something that has been going on for ages.

“In my country, girls as young as one or two have undergone FGM. I think girls should be checked as young as that.”

However, community groups expressed concerns that it could leave young girls vulnerable to abuse.

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Kelly Reid, co-ordinator of youth charity they Crib Project in Balmes Road, De Beauvoir, said: “My concern would be that if it came into play, people could take advantage of the situation. It’s also confusing when you have campaigns such as the NSPCC’s The Underwear Rule, which teaches children to keep their privates private.

“I can understand if it was done when a child’s behaviour was out of the ordinary and you are then doing a check, rather than doing random checks.”

Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia, a Hackney-based charity working to end violence against women and girls, said: “Diane Abbott is a great politician when it comes to advocating for the rights of women and girls but on supporting mandatory checks for FGM she is wrong, and needs to listen to survivors of this form of abuse.”

FGM consists of all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female organs for non-medical reasons.

It is a cultural practice which is not enshrined in any religion.