State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport: stepping up efforts to tackle female genital mutilation

Current efforts to tackle the practice of female genital mutilation, with effective information and the threat of severe penalties, are proving successful. This was the conclusion of a study conducted by knowledge and advisory centre Pharos on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. State Secretary Martin van Rijn says that efforts will be ramped up further, including better care and information for victims. The criminal law will also be extended in this area

According to the Pharos report, some 30,000 women in the Netherlands have at some point been subjected to female genital mutilation, in most cases in countries like Somalia and Egypt, before they came to the Netherlands. Every year, around 40 to 50 girls risk being circumcised while visiting family abroad. The researchers were unable to find firm evidence of female genital mutilation being carried out in the Netherlands. The report concluded that the current combination of targeted information, mainly through baby and toddler clinics and school doctors, and the threat of severe penalties under criminal law and child protection measures is proving effective.

Vigorous action where possible

Mr Van Rijn: ‘The figures are shocking, but the low risk faced by girls from high-risk countries who have been living in the Netherlands for some time gives us hope. In the battle against female genital mutilation we need to take vigorous action wherever possible. Each victim is one victim too many.’

Better care for victims

The Dutch Municipal Health Services (GGD) is setting up special drop-in sessions at six locations where the 30,000 victims in the Netherlands can discuss psychological and physical problems ­ – such as recurrent bladder infections – often caused by circumcision. The Dutch Federation of Somali Associations (FSAN) is also helping fund a campaign to inform women about the connection between their problems and genital mutilation and encourage them to attend the special sessions organised by the GGD.

Criminal law extended

The study showed that the threat of criminal prosecution is having a preventive effect. The main reason that Dutch women from high-risk countries refrain from circumcising their daughters or having someone else do it for them is the statutory ban and the threat of their children being taken into care. Those found guilty of performing female genital mutilation face up to 12 years in prison. The criminal law is to be extended in this area. The Minister of Security and Justice’s bill to extend the scope for criminal prosecution in cases of forced marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation, which has now been brought before the Senate, will make it possible to prosecute in the Netherlands acts of female genital mutilation committed abroad, regardless of the perpetrator’s nationality, if the victim was a Dutch national at the time of the act or was a foreign national living permanently in the Netherlands.

Awareness for at-risk newcomers

The study revealed that only girls aged up to 10 years who come to the Netherlands from high-risk countries were probably at risk of circumcision. In response to the report, the State Secretary for Security and Justice said he would explore ways in which the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) could pay even greater attention to the matter in their contact with at-risk groups.