A London doctor charged with female genital mutilation (FGM)–the first ever charge for the 28-year-old crime in a country where 170,000 women live with the scars of the procedure–appeared at court this weekend. But a top London gynecologist is saying the man should not be charged in this landmark case.
The gynecologist, Katrina Erskine, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist with a special interest in high risk pregnancy and maternal medicine, says this is not a case that should be prosecuted. Although the London Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) announced that there was sufficient evidence to charge Dr. Dhanuson Dharmasena, the doctor charged was not performing an original FGM. Dharmasena only performed stitching to repair tissue after the woman delivered a child. She had undergone FGM when she was much younger.
The gynecologist said she suspected that the DPP, Alison Saunders, was proceeding in the case because of pressure to prosecute someone for FGM due to the large publicity the subject had received. Erskine, who has practiced in an inner-city hospital in London’s East End for 21 years, where substantial immigrant Somali and Eritrean populations reside, said that she has never seen a case of FGM that was performed in England.
Erskine accused the DPP of prioritizing politics over other concerns and said that fellow gyneacologists were also outraged. She warned, “If, as a result of the Director of Public Prosecutions’s intervention, any post-delivery stitching or repair to a woman with FGM is going to be potentially considered as mutilation, then doctors and midwives will understandably hesitate before intervening. In certain situations, that potentially could cost a new mother her life.”
Seven thousand women who have undergone FGM give birth in London every year.
In addition to Dharmasena, a second man, Hasan Mohamed, is charged with encouraging and helping Dharmasena’s proceedure.
Female genital mutilation has been carried out on 140 million women and girls worldwide, according to UN research. 170,000 are in the UK. Of these, only 93 cases were reported in 2013. One went to court: Dharmasena’s.
Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the UK since 1985. Current prosecution of FGM takes place under the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act. The maximum sentence for the crime is 14 years incarceration. Dharmasena, 31, who last month was suspended by the General Medical Council, will go to trial Jan. 13, 2015. A plea will be entered June 27, 2014.
By Cheryl Bretton