A children’s charity chief executive says the full scale of female genital mutilation in England is only now becoming clear after new figures revealed that a case was reported every 96 minutes last year.
The 5,484 instances of mutilation reported from October 2014 to September 2015 are described as just the “tip of the iceberg”, with many “unseen, unheard cases” never showing up on official statistics.
A Yorkshire police force says it has seen a significant increase in the number of female genital mutilation (FGM) cases recorded since it became mandatory for health, education and social care workers to report incidents in October.
Between 31 October 2015 and 31 January 2016, six reports have been recorded by West Yorkshire Police relating to ten children who had undergone FGM, compared with just one report before October.
According to the force, all the cases occurred before the child’s arrival in the UK, with the age of the children involved ranging from one month old to nine years old.
FGM, the intentional altering of, or causing injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK but thought to affect more than 100,000 people in this country.
It is believed girls are often taken to their countries of origin so FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to “heal” before they return to school.
The national figures, released on the eve of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM on Saturday, are said by Plan UK, a charity which campaigns against the practice, to show the sheer scale of the problem currently facing the authorities.
Its chief executive Tanya Barron said: “FGM has been a hidden danger threatening girls in the UK and around the world – only now is the full scale becoming clear.Recognising that FGM is a fundamental abuse of girls’ rights is the first step to ending the practice.”
But she warned there are still many “unseen, unheard cases” that do not show up on official statistics. The figures are of cases which have been newly discovered by medical professionals, and many will relate to women who have been cut many years ago and are only now being reported to the health authorities.
The statistics, which were published monthly but are now released quarterly, show that between July and September last year 1,385 cases were reported. Of these, 758 cases were in London, 227 were in the Midlands and east of England, 245 were in the North of England and 155 were in the South of England. There is no geographical breakdown for figures earlier than this.
Nimco Ali set up the Daughters of Eve charity which works to protect women from FGM. She was cut as a seven year-old while on holiday in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
She told the Press Association that while FGM used to be a taboo topic, it is finally being talked about and tackled.
She said: “FGM is a brutal practice, but it is also a very simple one to end. If you stop one woman having FGM done to her then you break that link and prevent is being done to the next generation.
“I came from a family that was 100 per cent FGM and that has gone down to zero in a generation. We are finally shaking the taboo of FGM, but we have to be vigilant and cannot be complacent.”
She called for discussion of the dangers of mutilation to be incorporated into mandatory sexual and relationship education classes at school.