2 June 2012
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive presentation of the Bill. I am delighted that we are discussing this legislation, which is the first measure on which I have shared my views. As previous speakers have said, this is a positive step and I hope the Bill will be passed without delay so it can be placed on the Statute Book. While my comments are aimed at strengthening and improving the Bill, I will be giving it my full support. I wish to thank the Children’s Rights Alliance, AkiDwA, Amnesty International Ireland and other NGOs for their briefings. I also acknowledge the leading and supportive role played by Senator Bacik on this important matter.
We all recognise the horrors of FGM as a gross violation of human rights, as well as being a critical issue concerning children’s rights and child protection. FGM has real implications for children living in Ireland today.
Families in Ireland from FGM practising regions have reported serious pressures from overseas families to bring their daughters back to have the procedures carried out. This Bill must make it abundantly clear that Ireland will not tolerate this practice. It must be passed to bring Ireland into line with the majority of European countries but, most importantly, it will help families and parents to counter pressure to submit their daughters to FGM. It should act as a deterrent to the continuation of the practice and deliver a clear preventative message.
I will use my time to focus on the Bill. As Senators, it is our duty to make this Bill as strong as possible. There are three important areas that I propose should either be amended or clarified. The first in regard to defences. I am extremely concerned about section 2 in terms of defences, which seems to allow for a surgical operation unnecessary for the protection of her physical or mental health. This is not an acceptable defence and should be removed. We know that FGM has no health benefits and involves removing and or damaging healthy and normal body tissue. I am also concerned that mental health could be used as a defence by a parent or guardian to remove a child from Ireland to undergo FGM abroad. If such a defence is used, that is tantamount to saying that FGM must be performed to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of a girl but I do not know how this could be used in a country like Ireland where FGM is deemed totally unacceptable. The use of such a defence effectively links mental health to culture, yet the Bill elsewhere rightly states that the defence of culture cannot be used.
The second issue I would like to mention, which several colleagues raised, is that of extra-territoriality. I welcome the inclusion of the vital principle of extra-territoriality, making it an offence for an Irish citizen or a person ordinarily resident in Ireland to commit or attempt to commit an act of FGM in another country. I note the Minister’s comments on this important issue but I am still concerned. Currently, the FGM act must therefore be illegal in the jurisdiction where the act takes place for it to be an offence. I am concerned about the issue of dual criminality, which the Minister has raised. This is an issue on which we need to send a very strong message to the effect that, regardless of the other country’s legal stance, in Ireland it is illegal and it must be illegal for a person to take a child to any other country. This to me is as important as terrorism and I would like that issue to be re-examined.
The third issue is in regard to the definition in the Bill on which many speakers have commented. The definition is close to the World Health Organisation’s definition, which the Minister referenced. I question why we would not use the World Health Organisations definition to ensure that it is abundantly clear.
I fully support the Bill, as drafted, but we could go further and send a very strong message.