Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Ceisteanna (45)

Denis Naughten


45. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress being made to ban female genital mutilation at both EU and UN level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46479/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

Female genital mutilation, FGM, is a barbaric practice perpetrated on young girls. While the practice is concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is a universal problem which continues to persist among immigrant populations living here in Europe. I would like the Minister to update us on the progress on outlawing and prohibiting this practice.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. Female genital mutilation is a fundamental violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is nearly always carried out on girls under the age of 18. Approximately 3.6 million girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM each year. According to the World Health Organization, there are 200 million girls and women in 30 countries affected by FGM. While there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM in the past three decades, not all countries have made progress and the pace of decline is very uneven.

In 2018 Ireland co-sponsored resolutions in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly calling for the intensification of efforts to eliminate FGM globally. The Government's new policy for international development, A Better World, launched last February, has gender equality at its core. A Better World commits to strengthening and intensifying Ireland's work to end all forms of gender-based violence, building on our previous work in this area.

Ireland also provides support to a number of UN agencies, including UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, that are working to address FGM. UNFPA and UNICEF jointly lead the largest global programme to accelerate the elimination of FGM, which currently focuses on 17 African countries with the highest prevalence of FGM. The Government supports the development of legislation outlawing FGM, funds community and media education initiatives on FGM and provides training to improve healthcare and protection services for those affected.

In addition, the European Union and the UN are collaborating on a new global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative. This focuses on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, addressing the most prevalent forms of such violence in specific regions. In Africa, the Spotlight Initiative is concentrating on sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices including FGM.

Based on UN estimates, two young girls have female genital mutilation performed on them every single minute. In a majority of countries the girls were cut before the age of five. This is happening here in Ireland, in that young girls have been taken out of Ireland to be cut. While FGM is prohibited here and it is also a criminal offence for someone in Ireland to take a girl to another country to undergo this procedure, it is important we raise awareness here; introduce right across Europe far more robust legislation along the lines of the legislation here; and ensure there is awareness among the authorities, the health professionals and the Garda and police authorities and that we enforce that legislation.

FGM is universally recognised as a form of gender-based violence and a fundamental violation of human rights and girls here in Ireland. The practice of FGM is estimated to affect more than 3,780 women and girls in Ireland between the ages of 15 and 45. The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 provides for the creation of an offence of FGM and other offences relating to FGM. Under the Act it is a criminal offence for a person living in Ireland to perform FGM or to take a girl to another country to have FGM performed on her, as the Deputy has rightly outlined. In addition to prohibiting the use of FGM in law, it is important that appropriate responsive services at primary care level are in place to provide necessary care and support to women and girls who may have undergone FGM, whether illegally in Ireland or whether they have been taken out of the country for it to happen and then come back again.

The HSE is also working to raise awareness of the health implications of FGM among at-risk communities through information and support. An FGM resource pack for health professionals and relevant staff in maternity and associated settings has also been disseminated. The HSE also provides funding for a national network of immigrant women to facilitate working with target communities around raising awareness of the illegality of FGM and sharing information about the risks of this practice and the supports available for people. We are doing a lot but we need to do more.

I thank the Minister again for his reply. He is right: we are doing a lot here. We have very robust legislation such that offences committed outside of this jurisdiction - sadly, they are being committed outside of this jurisdiction - can be prosecuted here. As the Minister knows, however, that is not the case right across the member states of the European Union. I ask the Minister not only to support the awareness and resources being provided here in Ireland but at European Union level to impress on his colleagues right across Europe that this practice not only needs to be outlawed in all the other 27 European Union member states but also can be prosecuted if a young girl is taken from a member state of the European Union and the practice is performed elsewhere. It is important we have a zero-tolerance approach right across Europe not only to this practice but to anyone resident within the European Union who facilitates its carrying out on any young girl anywhere across the globe.

If nearly 4,000 women and girls in Ireland are impacted by this, the figure for the European Union in total is obviously many multiples of that. We would certainly like to see a consistency of approach in the law and prosecutions in this area. Perhaps I could come back to the Deputy with country-by-country details of the state of legislation in this area.

Perhaps we could do some more work to raise the profile of the issue in countries that have yet to put legislation in place that is similar to ours.