UK minister promises to ban virginity testing and hymenoplasty

The government has promised to ban virginity testing and revirginisation surgery, known as hymenoplasty, in England "as soon as possible".

Minister Lord Kamall called virginity testing a "violation of human rights".

And while he warned hymenoplasty was more difficult to outlaw, as it is considered a cosmetic procedure, he said both should be illegal.

Virginity testing is practised in at least 20 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It involves an intrusive vaginal examination to check if the hymen is intact.

But the WHO, which considers the procedure a violation of human rights, also says there is no evidence that it can prove whether a woman or girl has had sex or not as the hymen can be broken in other ways - such as through tampon use or exercise.

A BBC Newsbeat investigation found 21 clinics offering the procedure in the UK, charging between £150 and £300.

Medical experts have also said hymenoplasty surgery, which restores a layer of membrane at the entrance to the vagina, is intrusive, abusive and unscientific.

Conservative MP Richard Holden has proposed a clause for the Health and Care Bill to try and get the them both banned.

But some fear criminalising the procedures may drive them underground.

Asked first about a plan to ban virginity testing, health minister Lord Kamall told peers: "It is widely acknowledged that such tests have no scientific merit nor clinical indication and are a violation of human rights and have an adverse impact on girls and women's wellbeing.

"Details of any offence are being carefully considered and the government will make virginity tests illegal when parliamentary time allows."

Tory former minister Baroness Sugg said the Health and Care Bill would be the right legislation for the task.

But she said hymenoplasty was "inextricably linked" with virginity testing and any ban of the latter would be "undermined" if the two were not outlawed together.

Lord Kamall, who was given the health minister role in last month's reshuffle, said: "The issue with hymenoplasty is because it's classified as a cosmetic procedure introducing legislation in this space might take away the right for women to make decisions about procedures they wish to have."

But he added: "I will be pushing as much as possible to make sure that we ban both virginity testing and hymenoplasty as soon as possible."

However, former Labour MP Baroness Stuart, who sits as an independent crossbencher, pushed the point on banning the tow together, adding: "Rather than talking about it being a cosmetic procedure it should be seen as a form of abuse."

The minister said he did not consider it cosmetic "personally", but it was a matter of law.

He added: "That's why we have to be a little bit more careful about we address that issue in legal terms and the exact drafting of the ban."

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