Social workers, teachers and health workers must become more aware their powers to prevent female genital mutilation and of the support available for circumcision prevention and rehabilitation, the house of lords was told last night.
Baroness Gould asked what action government had taken following the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 in education, prevention and prosecution. She said it was possible for people who practised such operations, often without medical training, could face a five year prison sentence. There had been no prosecutions under the Act, even in the case of a Harley Street practitioner who was struck off by the British Medical Association in 1993.
She added: 'There is a need to provide advocacy materials: where to go for support in the community, how to access those services available through the NHS, social services and education authorities - information which should be available through both men's and women's community groups.
Baroness Jeger refered to a newspaper advertisement for a clinic offering worry-free surgery for men or women. Neither the newspaper nor the director of environmental services at Westminster City Council was aware of the legislation and the council officer said the premises were not licensed under the London Local Authorities Act 1991.
'We must try to establish among the press an understanding of the legislation. We must also impress upon local authorities they are not carrying out the provisions of the legislation', she added.
For the government, Lord Hunt said councils had other powers. Under the Children Act 1989 a prohibited steps order can be made by a local authority to prevent parents carrying out an act without the consent of the court. This also covered taking a child out of the country for mutiliation to be carried out abroad.
In 1991 information on the Children Act relevant to female genital mutilation was issued to local authorities, health authorities, the police, probation services, educational establishments, doctors and a range of voluntary organisations. This was being updated and would be reissued in the spring.
Lord Hunt said the police and Crown Prosecution Service were not ignoring the 1985 legislation. Because of cultural and other circumstances surrounding female circumcision, it was 'immensley difficult' to obtain evidence for prosecutions.