Female genital mutilation: Thousands of victims 'residing in the UK'

The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK
The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK

    JUST WATCHED

    The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK

MUST WATCH

The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the UK 02:59

Story highlights

  • Report: An estimated 137,000 females affected by FGM were living in England and Wales in 2011
  • The highest rates were found in London, with almost 50 per 1,000 women in Southwark in the south of city
  • The UK Department of Health reported that there were 3,963 newly identified cases of FGM between September 2014 and March 2015

(CNN)According to UNICEF, 30 million women worldwide are likely to endure female genital mutilation (FGM) within the next eight years. And a new report suggests that the problem is widespread in the UK.

FGM, or cutting, which is illegal in the UK, is a procedure where the female genital organs are partially or fully removed or injured, but without medical reason.
    It is usually carried out on girls from infancy up to the age of 15, but older women can also be subjected to it. The research states that in certain cultures, the practice is believed to restrain a female's sexual appetite and prepare her for marriage.
    The female can end up with severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth, increased risk of newborn deaths as well as emotional scars. Their own lives are also at risk.
    An estimated 137,000 women and girls, aged from infancy to above 50, who have gone through FGM and were born in countries where it is practiced were permanent residents in England and Wales in 2011, according to the latest research carried out in 2014. And there are significantly high rates in London.
    Although the figures are based on interim findings by London's City University and the NGO Equality Now, the highest numbers were found in London boroughs, with 47.4 per 1,000 women in Southwark in the south of the city and 38.9 per 1,000 in Brent in the north west, compared to 0.5% in England and Wales as a whole.
    The report, funded by the Trust for London and the UK Home Office, "...suggest(s) that women who have undergone FGM are living in virtually every part of England and Wales," said Alison Macfarlane, Professor of Perinatal Health at City University London and co-author of the report. The practice is already outlawed in the UK and 41 other countries.
    In addition, based on feedback from hospital providers in the UK, The UK Department of Health reported that there were 3,963 newly identified cases of FGM between September 2014 and March 2015. Sixty of these cases involved girls under the age of 18.
    The City University and NGO Equality report says says it is commonly performed by traditional practitioners with no formal medical training and without anesthetic. And instruments such as knives, scissors, razor blades or even shards of glass may be used.
    The female is pinned down by a number of adults, or expected to lie still and bear the pain. It is also estimated that since 2008, women with FGM have made up about 1.5 per cent of all women giving birth in England and Wales each year.
    According to a new UK law to be enforced in the Fall, teachers and health workers are required to report on suspected cases of FGM, with the ability to apply for a court order, the Home Office confirmed in a statement to CNN. And last Friday, police in Bedfordshire in the east also secured the first ever FGM protection order. The new law "allows authorities to seize the passports of people who they suspect are planning on taking girls abroad for mutilation," the police said in a statement to CNN.
    "With schools breaking up for the summer holidays today, we will continue to use this legislation where needed to prevent young girls who we believe may be at risk from being taken out of the country," said Detective Chief Inspector Nick Bellingham in the statement.
    Diana Nammi, founder and executive director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organization (IKWRO), welcomes the new changes. But she tells CNN that education is key and that awareness of issues such as FGM, forced marriage and child marriage should be raised via the school curriculum, making the added effort to engage parents and local communities.
    Commenting on the legal requirement for teachers to report suspected cases, she stresses the need for teachers to be educated themselves. "If they're not receiving any training or aware of these things, how can they identify it? They need to be educated. How to talk to parents, how to raise awareness, how to talk to organizations like us. This is a multi-agency approach we need for tackling this problem."
    She also worries that without proper training, looking out for signs of FGM could lead to stereotyping. "Many think it's only happening in African communities, whereas Middle Eastern communities are highly affected."
    Through her own work, Nammi recalls being alerted by a refugee organization about a Kurdish girl whose father wanted to take her back to their home country to "be cut."
    In a joint meeting with social services and the family, "one of the men told us, why are you making a big fuss about FGM, it's just a little bit of skin. (This) was their understanding," says Nammi. She argues that most people get incorrect information from their peers, without verifying the information themselves, online or elsewhere.
    "The first thing they will face is another peer woman or older woman from the community to tell them you have to cut your daughter or she will not get married. So they reproduce this kind of problem within the community."
    Nammi cites the different approaches to boys and girls in Middle Eastern communities. "Boys, when they are circumcised, they throw a party. But for girls, they try to hide it. It's not worth having a party for. Girls, they cut, because they need to protect their (family) honor.
    Macfarlane adds in the report: "It is important not to stigmatise women who have undergone FGM, or assume that their daughters are all at risk, as many families have given up FGM on migration and attitudes have changed in some of their countries of origin.
    "On the other hand, others may have not given up FGM and it is important to safeguard their daughters."
    Nammi adds: "This part of the culture is a crime, it's not a culture."