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LGA - Community leaders must face prosecution for encouraging FGM

Encouraging or promoting the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) by community or faith leaders should be made illegal under government plans to toughen up the law, councils urge today.

Council efforts to help to end this form of abuse against women and girls is often being undermined when community leaders continue to advocate the crime.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, said the Serious Crime Bill – being used to toughen up FGM legislation – needs to go further in order to tackle the crime and change cultural attitudes.

The LGA wants the Bill amended to make it an offence for anyone, whether they live in the UK or are visiting the country, to encourage or assist in the promotion of FGM. It is a call that has the backing of the NSPCC, British Arab Federation and FGM charity FORWARD.

Council attempts to commission specialist services to tackle FGM is also being restricted by the limited capabilities of volunteer organisations and charities. Government funding and support is needed to increase their capacity to provide FGM-related services.

Cllr Ann Lucas, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "FGM is a horrific form of abuse and councils see first-hand the devastating impact it has on its victims' mental and physical wellbeing. Local authorities are determined to work with communities to end the practice and reduce the thousands of women and girls estimated to be at risk of FGM in the UK. However, their work to change long-standing cultural practices are made more difficult when community or religious leaders continue to promote it.

"FGM will only be eradicated in the long-term by changing practice and custom in communities where it happens and this requires working with members of these communities to change their views towards FGM.

"Making it a clear criminal offence to encourage or promote the practice of FGM, and not just the physical act of an individual assisting or carrying out a mutilation, is a necessary step in bringing cases against those who support FGM and to help change attitudes towards this practice.

"The Government also needs to provide further funding and support to FGM charities to increase their capacity in same way as those that support victims of domestic violence so we can work together to eliminate this abhorrent criminal practice."

Case studies

The Greater Manchester Safeguarding Partnership formed the Female Genital Mutilation Forum in 2011 to prevent, provide for and protect women and girls across Greater Manchester. The Forum, which includes representatives from councils across the region, third sector and health partners, community safety teams and the Police and Crime Commissioner, has raised awareness of FGM, as well as offering a coordinated approach to tackling the issue.

In 2013, the London Borough of Newham was awarded London Crime Prevention Funding to provide a One-Stop Shop support service to victims of violence against women and girls – including FGM. The phone number for the One-Stop Shop is a 24-hour line, run by staff and by volunteers who are able to support victims in many different languages. It is part of the council's FGM Prevention Services commissioned to intervene when health professionals first become aware of FGM.

The Bristol Safeguarding Children Board has been leading efforts for several years to raise awareness and train professionals to spot signs that a girl might be vulnerable to FGM. This includes an information campaign which has supported public health funding for a contract for FORWARD to work with community groups, train local advocates, talk to young people, run a drop-in advice centre and provide feedback and training to health workers.

Notes for editors 1. Read more about the LGA's lobbying around the Serious Crime Bill Contact Greg Burns, Senior Media Relations Officer Local Government Association Telephone: 020 7664 3184 Email: greg.burns@local.gov.uk Media Office (for out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333 Local Government House, Smith Square, Londo,n SW1P 3HZ. www.local.gov.uk 

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