New figures on Female Genital Mutilation reveal there were thousands of cases reported in England last year – the equivalent of 16 cases every day.
In the year to March, 5,702 women sought medical help for the complications of the mutilation, according to research which touches on the scope of FGM and its victims in Britain for the first time.
Over half of the women and girls were from London, and some acts of FGM were reported to have taken place in the UK.
There were 8,656 visits to hospitals, GPs and clinics to identify or treat FGM during the year.
Just over 100 were girls under 18, and the vast majority were born in Africa.
The mutilation, which was recently branded “child abuse” by a UN chief, involves cutting removing part or all of a woman’s genitals for non-medical reasons, is traditional in some religions and cultures and can cause severe pain and mental effects.
The FGM was reported to have been carried out in the UK in 18 cases. 11 of those women and girls were reported to have been born in the UK.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “It is really concerning that there are thousands of newly recorded cases of women who have suffered FGM across England, especially when many of these have endured the procedure at such a young age.
“Parents should be fully aware of the fact that FGM is against the law in the UK and causes serious and long lasting physical and emotional harm to the children it is inflicted upon.
“There is also a requirement for all professionals, families and members of the public to share information about FGM and the terrible damage it can cause on young women living in our communities. Only by being open and talking about this issue can we really start to reduce the number of women who are exposed to what is a barbaric act.”
Out of some 200 NHS trusts, 112 treated a woman for FGM in the year to March.
Many of the women were pregnant when they sought help – FGM can cause serious complications during pregnancy.
The findings from the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) also found that 52% of those treated for FGM live in the London NHS area.
The annual report is the first of its kind, using data from across A&E departments, GP practices and mental health providers to map the victims in detail for the first time.
The most frequent age range that the FGM had been carried out was between five and nine years old.
Carrying out FGM or taking a child abroad to have it performed has been illegal in the UK for 30 years, but no-one has ever been prosecuted for the offence. It is thought that many instances of FGM being carried out on girls from the UK today are taking place abroad, with campaigners warning that the summer holidays are a time when vulnerable girls are taken abroad for FGM by family members.
Kam Thandi from the children’s charity NSPCC told the BBC most calls to its helpline regarding FGM are made in July.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for young people who are being forced to undergo this procedure, to have the procedure, and also heal by the time they come back to this country and re-engage with school.”
Figures last year used immigration figures to create an estimate of the number of women in different areas of the UK who are affected by FGM. It named Southwark in London are the area with the most women likely to have had FGM.
Almost one in 20 (4.7%) women living in Southwark are estimated to have experienced the brutal practice, 10 times the England and Wales average of 0.5%.
The HSCIC covered reported cases from April 2015 to March 2016, and found that:
112 NHS trusts and 38 GP practices recorded seeing a new case of FGM
There were 5,702 newly-recorded cases and a total of 8,656 visits to identify or treat FGM
More than half (52%) of the newly recorded cases were from relate to women and girls from London NHS Commissioning Region
18 of the newly-recorded cases took place in the UK. Where the type of FGM was most were ‘Type 4’ – piercing.
Most of the women and girls (73%) referred themselves for help, where the method of their referral was known
106 girls were under 18, representing 2% of cases.
The vast majority of women (87%) were pregnant when they sought medical help, based on those whose pregnancy status was known
Most (90%) were born in an Eastern, Northern or Western African country, where the country of their birth was recorded. Somalia in accounted for more than a third of all the cases (37%). Other countries with a large number were Eritrea, the Sudan, Nigeria and the Gambia.
Six per cent of the new cases were born in Asia.
Just 43 of the 5,000 women and girls were born in the UK, out of those whose birth place was recorded. More than 40% of those had experienced FGM ‘Type 4’ which includes pricking, piercing or scraping a girl’s genital area.
Most of the cases were ‘Type 1’ or ‘Type 2’ FGM, meaning partial or total removal of the clitoris and sometimes also the labia.
The most frequent age range at which the FGM was carried out was between five and nine – 43% of cases whose age when they had FGM was known had the procedure at this age.
Mary Wandia, the End FGM Program Manager, at charity Equality Now, told The Huffington Post UK the numbers were the “tip of the iceberg”, saying its own estimate of 137,000 women living with FGM in the UK is a more accurate picture of the overall scale.
Wandia told HuffPost UK: “We have had huge progress at health and justice levels in particular, but survivors are still not getting the physical, emotional and psychological support they need,” she said. “We also hope that education and social services do more to protect girls at risk of this extreme form of child abuse, so we can end it once and for all. There is huge momentum for reducing FGM to zero at the moment, but we cannot afford to slow down while a single girl is still at risk”.
The procedure of FGM varies but can include removing the clitoris of a young girl, removing the inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and sewing together the vulva – traditionally without anaesthetic – causing lifelong physical and mental effects.
A ‘newly-recorded’ case of FGM means the case has been recorded in the new ‘FGM Enhanced Dataset’ for the first time. It doesn’t mean that the woman has never had medical help before.
The research warns that caution must be taken with the findings because many trusts and GPs do not submit all the data asked of them.