When it was announced that the UK would be carrying out its first female genital mutilation (FGM) prosecution since the practice was first made illegal in 1985, the decision was widely welcomed as a statement against the socially, medically and legally unacceptable nature of the practice. However, with publicity for the case that is currently ongoing, at an all-time high for the divisive subject, there has been a controversial but predictable backlash against the landmark trial. There are now questions being raised over the legitimacy of the first female genital mutilation case to be pursued in the UK as some critics are claiming it is more of a political statement rather than a real prosecution based on correct evidence.
The case is currently ongoing and the two men on trial are Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena charged with re-doing previous female genital mutilation on a patient after she gave birth, and the husband of the patient, Hasan Mohamed, accused of aiding and financially remunerating the doctor for his work. Their arrest and subsequent prosecution drew a huge amount of attention in the UK and is now creating a lot of unrest among the medical community with regards to the definition of FGM and some are now saying they believe the real motive behind the case is a political one designed to relieve the pressure on the public prosecutions office to make an arrest.
Various doctors have come forward to question the legitimacy of the case, stating that there is a difference between stitching up a woman after childbirth to avoid life-threatening hemorrhaging, and performing female genital mutilation on a patient. Due to the nature of the most severe form of mutilation carried out on women, they sometimes require a small incision to be made prior to birth in order to allow sufficient room for the baby’s head, however this can often result in excessive bleeding in the aftermath of the process and stitches to the wound are often the only means of saving the woman’s life. According to the law as it stands however, this is not illegal and does not count as committing mutilation on the patient. Doctor’s are concerned though that if this prosecution goes ahead it will serve as a deterrent to medical professionals in situations that require sutures and as a result could endanger the lives of these already vulnerable women.
The controversial intervention of medical practitioners has now meant that the first female genital mutilation trial in the UK has been thrown into questionable light as many speculate on how far it is a case of making a political statement or whether it is a real, legitimate prosecution. In response to those voicing concerns over the trial, Alison Saunders, the director of Public Prosecutions, has highlighted how speculative criticism is unhelpful when dealing with such a difficult subject such as female genital mutilation. She has reiterated that the law specifies it is not illegal for a medical professional to perform any medical procedure which is deemed necessary to save the life of the patient and in such cases it would not be classed as female genital mutilation. Saunders also indicates that these factors were all duly considered in the case, however given that specific medical knowledge of this case is unknown at this time due to it being sub judices, all medical comments surrounding the prosecution are speculative and although given with the best of intentions, are unhelpful in ensuring that the real nature of the laws surrounding FGM are clear.
While the recent controversy surrounding the first UK female genital mutilation prosecution has led to questions over how far it is more of a political statement than a real case with a legitimate prosecution, priority should be given to the facts of the particular investigation. There has now been speculation from both sides and it is entirely unhelpful in aiding the growing awareness of the issue of female genital mutilation and the preventative actions which need to be taken in connection with it.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion