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A health minister has warned those who perform virginity tests on women and girls at home that they will face the “full force of the law”.
Lord Syed Kamall made the comments when he was asked about fears that the practice could be driven “underground” after it is banned.
It comes after ministers pledged to outlaw the invasive and unscientific “tests” offered by some private clinics that claim to determine whether someone is a virgin.
Kamall told the House of Lords: “One of the unintended consequences that has been raised, is the fact that it might drive this practice, not only into the home but also underground.
“If we make it illegal, it is illegal, and we have to make sure that we know when someone conducts or subjects a woman or girl to that awful sort of experience.
“It’s important that everyone knows it’s illegal and that they face the full force of the law.”
In 2020, an investigation by the Sunday Times identified 22 private clinics across the UK charging up to £3,000 for the procedure, which is performed under local anaesthetic.
Kamall made the comments in response to Labour’s Baroness Gillian Merron, who said: “In addition to private examinations performed by gynaecologists and other medical professionals, campaigners report the victims are often subject to extremely crude examinations performed at home by family members which involves means such as inserting fingers into the vagina to check if the hymen is intact.
“What steps is the government taking to tackle such hidden forms of abuse?”
Conservative peer Baroness Fiona Hodgson called it a “demeaning” process and an “abuse against women”.
Meanwhile, Tory Baroness Liz Sugg stressed that virginity testing was “inextricably linked” with hymenoplasty – a procedure that claim to repair the hymen.
Sugg said that any commitment to ban virginity testing would be “undermined” if they were not banned together in the health and care bill.
Lord Kamall replied saying he “completely agreed” with her sentiments and it was “really important” that both were banned as soon as possible.
However, he explained that hymenoplasty is classified as a “cosmetic procedure” and legislation might “take away” the right for women to make decisions about procedures that they wish to have.
He added: “I do think though it’s important that we work out how we can ban this practice...and can I just give you the commitment that I will be pushing as much as possible to make sure that we ban both virginity testing and hymenoplasty as soon as possible.”
Richard Holden, Tory MP for North West Durham, brought in a clause to the health and care bill that strives to outlaw virginity tests.
Doctors or midwives carrying out the procedures could face jail time under the measures. The government has committed to banning virginity testing in its violence against women and girls strategy – but question marks remain over hymenoplasty.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.