It has been known for some time that Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM ) has been practised in over two dozen countries with over 100 million living victims, mainly in Africa and the Middle – East but there is now plenty of evidence to suggest that immigration has spread the abuse to European countries including the UK where it is, of course, illegal.
Defenders of the practice insist that FGM is steeped in cultural and religious tradition in those countries where it is prevalent and is no different from male circumcision. Removal of female external genitalia is historically designed to reduce a woman’s libido and promote fidelity in marriage. Opponents point to the risks to health and the oppression of women’s rights.
It is estimated that some 2,000 British girls undergo FGM each year and London’s Metropolitan Police now have a dedicated FGM unit dealing with the practice. However, although it has been illegal since 1985, there has not been a single prosecution.
It seems that here in the UK, the emphasis is more on prevention than detection with significant educational efforts aimed at vulnerable girls and their parents. The same emphasis is now evident in overseas countries where children’s charities like Plan International are ramming home the message about the physical and longer term mental health risks.
Plan has adopted a 3 step process which appears to already be succeeding in countries likeMali,KenyaandPakistan:
- The first step is that local health professionals educate communities about the obvious dangers to health as the result of infection and haemorrhaging etc.
- Secondly, a local champion against FGM is selected and developed so that each community remains on message when the Plan representative is not around. It is also vital that community leaders, teachers and law enforcement agencies provide their support.
- Finally, it is important to work with parents’ groups and children’s groups to raise awareness of what to do and who to go to if any child is threatened with FGM.
This three-pronged approach, adopted community by community, has resulted in whole areas being declared female genital mutilation free. Mali, where more than two-thirds of girls were previously subject to FGM, has made particularly strong strides just working from one village to the next.
Plan would like to see these methods adopted amongst those immigrant communities in the UK where some 24,000 girls are estimated to remain at risk.