Concerns about female genital mutilation, or FGM, are rising in the UK after the number of children who’ve had the procedure or are at risk of it more than doubled in the past year.
Social workers carrying out assessments in 2017-2018 classified 1,960 children as either having undergone or being at risk of FGM.
The figure marks a sharp rise from the previous year, when 970 cases were identified.
The true number of at-risk children is likely to be far higher, as the practice remains widely under-reported, warned the Local Government Association, or LGA, which analyzed government records for its findings. The LGA did not offer a reason for the apparent increase in at-risk children, but noted that awareness has increased and social workers can identify it quicker than before.
Incidents of child abuse related to faith or belief, including witchcraft and spirit possession, were found to have risen by 12%. Last year, there were 1,630 cases of such abuse, the LGA said, an increase from 1,460 the year before.
The findings demonstrate “the worrying prevalence of FGM, which is ruining lives and destroying communities,” said Anita Lower of the LGA.
“At a time when they should be preparing for adult life and enjoying being young, no girl or young woman should be subject to the horrors of genital mutilation, which is child abuse and cannot be justified for any reason,” Lower added.
Between April 2017 and March 2018, almost 5,000 women and girls in the UK were newly identified as victims of FGM, according to the National Health Service.
Figures of children identified as being at risk were not collected before 2016-2017, so annual rates can only be compared over the past two years.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
In September, FGM survivor and campaigner Leyla Hussein warned that some schoolgirls in the UK were being pressured into FGM by their peers.
“Whilst we are making progress in tackling FGM, these alarming statistics show it is still being practised in communities across England,” said Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, which is a joint initiative between the LGA and children’s charity Barnardo’s.
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“Even more concerning is that these figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg because many cases of FGM go undetected,” he added.
The LGA called for greater funding for social care, in order to identify and protect children from the risk of FGM and other forms of abuse.
“To maximise the effectiveness of this prevention and intervention work, children’s services departments need further funding to address the scale of demand for help from children and their families,” said Lower, who is also a councillor for the center-left Liberal Democrat party.
The UK government announced an extra £410 million ($523 million) for adult and children’s social care in 2019-2020 in its recent budget, but the LGA said this “doesn’t go far enough to plug the £3 billion ($3.8 billion) funding gap facing children’s services by 2025.”