Female genital mutilation: thousands of girls at risk in UK
Families allegedly paying for FGM practitioners to travel to Britain to mutilate girls at 'cutting parties'
DOCTORS and nurses are being encouraged to log details of the injuries suffered by victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a bid to help women at risk.
By September, hospitals will be expected to send monthly reports about the practice to the Department of Health – the first stage in a wider scheme to improve the way the NHS supports the prevention of FGM. The announcement comes as the UN today marks a Day of Zero Tolerance to the practice.
What is FGM?
Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing all or part of the external female genitalia or causing other injuries to female genital organs, such as burning, scraping, piercing or cutting. Also known as female circumcision, it can involve removing the clitoris or labia, or narrowing the vagina opening, and is often carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15. It is not performed for medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
What are the consequences?
Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, heavy bleeding and infections, while longer term problems include cysts, infertility and complications in childbirth. Anaesthetics are not generally used and the practice is usually carried out by someone with no medical training using knives, scissors, pieces of glass or razor blades. One victim, speaking to the Evening Standard, said the pain was "indescribable" and worse than giving birth to any of her five children. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained, and victims are often left with psychological damage.
Why is FGM carried out?
There is a mix of cultural, religious and social factors involved. In some communities it is a social convention and considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly. Some believe it will reduce a woman's libido and therefore help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. Although no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
Where does it happen?
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. But the UK is not immune. According to the NHS, there are 66,000 victims living in the UK and more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 at risk of FGM in the UK each year. However, the true extent is unknown due to the hidden nature of the crime. Some girls are taken to their countries of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to "heal" before they return to school, but there are also worries that FGM is being performed in the UK. The Guardian reports that some families are clubbing together to pay for practitioners to travel to Britain to mutilate girls in "cutting parties".
Why hasn't FGM been stopped?
Great global efforts have been made to counteract FGM since 1997, according to the World Health Organisation. Research, work within communities and changes in public policy and legislation are believed to have helped decrease the prevalence of FGM across the world. But the practice has certainly not been wiped out. Despite being illegal in the UK since 1985, no-one has ever been prosecuted for carrying out FGM. In The Times today, the Metropolitan Police says a first prosecution is expected within weeks, but the force accuses doctors, teachers and social workers of failing to report the crime. Today's announcement from the Department of Health may go some way to addressing this problem. ·