Female genital mutilation is a crime in Finland. Although the country lacks a specific law that bans this practice, it is considered an aggravated type of assault and it can be punished with imprisonment or deportation. Cases have been reported by the NGO Fenix Helsinki and the Finnish League for Human Rights, that promotes since 2002 a program against it. In 2017, the Government announced a special allocation of 80.000 euros to protect potential victims.
According to the law, the guilt lies not only with the people who carry out the process: anyone who intervenes in this type of practice (for example, parents who take their daughters out of the country to carry it out) can be also found guilty and punished.
For legal purposes, the term female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to all types of practices consisting in the removal or damage of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. These are practices that horrify European societies, but are part of the traditions of some 30 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Now, due to migratory processes, they are also present in countries of the Western world.
The Finnish Immigration Department (Migri) informs asylum seekers since 2015 that though FGM is a practice deeply rooted in some cultures that “consider female genital mutilation to be a natural part of a girl’s transition to womanhood”, it is forbidden and punished in Finland.
Migri also informs women and young girls coming to Finland from those societies that to be at risk of suffering FGM constitute grounds for issuing a residence permit. Therefore, if they fear being themselves or that their daughters may be victims of these practices, they should mention it when they go to their interviews to request residency or asylum permits. Also, in case of suffering from health problems resulting from FGM, they must tell the nurse at the reception centres.
Girls at risk, parents deported
The Finnish government, through its Immigration Service, warns all persons who could be victims or carry out these practices that the police will initiate a criminal investigation when there are indications of its execution.
This happens, for instance if the Social or Child Welfare services report that there is a suspicion that a girl living in Finland is at risk of being subjected to FGM during a vacation in the country of origin of her parents. In those cases, if a residence permit was issued individually or to a family due to the risk of FGM and procedure is performed later, the permit may be cancelled and those who benefit of it can be deported to their home country.
A report published in 2017 by the NGO Fenix Helsinki confirmed that this illegal practice still exists in Finland. According to its conclusions, there are still cases of girls being transported to other countries for FGM.
At the time of the release of this study, Ujuni Ahmed, a second-generation immigrant from Somalia and chair of Fenix Helsinki, declared that “these trips really are organised in Finland. I have also heard that FGM is carried out within the country”. The report included testimonies of four girls who had been taken away to be subjected to FGM in Egypt, Somalia, Syria and Iran. None of them knew the purpose of the trip in advance.
Nevertheless, none of those cases were reported to the police. Finnish Police has said that it is very difficult to take measures against FGM because most of the cases take place secretly, during visits to foreign countries, as the report showed.
According to reports published by several European NGOs dedicated to raising awareness about the need to eradicate FGM, this practice is very painful for the victim, often is carried out without anesthesia by people without medical training and in unsanitary conditions.
The process has proved to cause psychological damage and serious physical medical problems: women who have suffered it may have painful periods, urinal and genital infections and cases of infertility have been also detected. The sequels might also negatively affect their sexual intercourses during the adulthood and complicate labour.
The Finnish Minister of Family and Social Services, Annikka Saarikko, has spoken several times in favour of the adoption of a law to ban these practices. “I think we should consider whether female genital mutilation should be criminalised in Finland as in the other Nordic countries”, she declared in 2017 while speaking about this matter on TV. Currently, FGM is prosecuted just as an aggravated form of assault.
80.000 euros to prevent FGM
At the end of 2017, the Finnish Government announced a special allocation of 80.000 euros for a programme to prevent FGM of women and young girls. Still, the fact remains that Finland is the only Nordic country that lacks specific legislation against FGM.
Sweden became in 1982 the first western country to specifically outlaw FGM in the country. Afterwards, the ban was extended to procedures performed against Swedish citizens abroad. Norway, Denmark and Iceland also have developed strict legislation to outlaw FGM.
The Finnish League for Human Rights works also to prevent FGM and circumcision in Finland and to raise consciousness against it since 2002, by promoting the KokoNainen project. The goal of their work is “that girls who live in Finland are not circumcised in Finland or abroad”, as declared at their website.