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UK's first prosecution for Female Genital Mutilation announced

The Crown Prosecution Service in the UK has delighted campaigners after announcing the first ever prosecutions for Female Genital Mutilation, despite the practice being illegal in the UK for the past 30 years, reports the BBC.

The CPS has announced that a British-based doctor and another man are to be prosecuted under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 for an offence conducted at the Whittington Hospital in East London.

Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena who is 31, and an associate, Mr Hasan Mohamed, who is 40 years old and is not a doctor, have been charged after it was alleged they conducted a restoration circumcision procedure on a woman who had given birth back in 2012.

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation is a term describing the practice of cutting the external genitalia of women. It is practiced widely around the world, particularly in East Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

In such cultures women who are not 'circumcised' are perceived to be 'promiscuous' and 'unclean', but in reality there are no known health benefits, and the practice is almost always painful and traumatic, and often borders on dangerous, with no formal sterilization of equipment and no medical training for practitioners, particularly in rural areas.

The World Health Organisation has classified the practice into four types, with some involving complete or partial removal of the external genitalia, whilst others include stitching the genitalia together.

It is thought that 125m women worldwide have been affected by FGM, with a staggering 66,000 women and girls thought to have been affected in the UK.

Is FGM illegal?

FGM was first made illegal in the UK back in the 1980s by the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. Despite this no one was formally prosecuted under this Act. The only known cases involved doctors who were subsequently struck off the General Medical Council register, but who were not criminally prosecuted.

Dr. Farooque Hayder Siddique was a Harley Street doctor set up by The Sunday Times in 1993, agreeing to perform FGM for a fee. Although he was struck off, he successfully applied to have his name restored to the register in 1996, and continued to practice for the next twenty years.

In 2000 a GP, Dr Abdul Ahmed, was also struck off by the GMC after being caught agreeing to 'circumcise and stitch' two girls for £50 each.

The law was significantly tightened with the introduction of the FGM Act 2003, and yet despite the maximum punishment being extended to 14 years imprisonment, the law was still criticised for lacking teeth as, for the following decade, no prosecutions were made under the Act.

This all seems set to change now, with the announcement that Dr Dharmasena will face a formal prosecution for his actions at the Whittington Hospital in 2012.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: "Having carefully considered all the available evidence, I have determined there is sufficient evidence and it would be in the public interest to prosecute Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena for an offence contrary to S1 (1) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003)."

She added that prosecutions under the Act were notoriously difficult because women were afraid to speak out against their communities.