A new rule to make it possible for doctors and other care-givers to speak out in cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been unanimously agreed by MPs. The rule, part of a bill introduced by Els Van Hoof, lifts the requirement for professional confidentiality in such cases, allowing doctors and nurses and others to alert the authorities in cases where FGM is suspected or impending. The rule applies to minors and adults alike, and also includes the insertion in a patient’s medical records of a note that such a procedure has taken place.
It is estimated that in Belgium there are more than 17,000 girls and women who have undergone such a procedure, a ritual operation which involves the removal of anything from the labia minora up to and including the clitoris itself, often under less than surgical conditions and without anaesthetic. Another 8,600 girls, because of their age and cultural background, are at risk of being victims themselves.
The procedure is illegal in Belgium, but the number of cases is thought to have tripled over the last ten years. Some girls are taken to Africa to have the operation performed; others find a compliant doctor or other practitioner here.
The new law gives medical personnel the right to break their general rule of confidentiality by reporting cases to the prosecutor. But its supporters stressed that the right is not an obligation, for those who would rather stick to their oath of silence. The permanent note in the patient’s medical record will send a message to other professionals, warning them for example of the risk being faced by younger siblings or female children of victims.