Health and Social Care Information Centre figures show extent of illegal practice in UK, with 75% of FGM cases self-reported
More than 1,000 women and girls have been treated by the NHS in England for female genital mutilation in three months this year, according to figures that reveal the extent of the practice in the UK.
Between April and June, there were 1,026 newly recorded cases of FGM in England, latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show. Among the cases, there were nine girls under the age of 18.
Since the HSCIC started to record FGM data in September 2014, there have been 4,989 cases reported nationally. In the most recent tranche of data, 60 NHS trusts out of a total of 160 submitted data for one or more FGM attendances.
There is likely to be a spike in the number in the next recording period after recording FGM attendance became mandatory for acute trusts on 1 June 2015, and becomes mandatory for GP practices and mental health trusts from 1 October. Only one GP provided data for April to June.
The HSCIC found that, in 75% of newly recorded cases, women and girls themselves reported that they had suffered FGM, rather than it being reported by someone else. Among those who went to the NHS, 43 had undergone deinfibulation, or “reversal”, where the vagina is reopened after a large part of it has been sewn shut, in the most extreme form of mutilation.
Tackling FGM has risen up the political agenda since last year, after high-profile campaigns and international gatherings attracted public support. A Guardian petition saw the Department for Education write to schools about the dangers of FGM, while steps have been taken by the Department of Health and the Home Office to ensure cases are recorded and victims receive more support.
The new figures exposed the shocking extent of FGM in the UK, said Tanya Barron, CEO of global children’s charity Plan UK, which campaigns against FGM.
“We’ve seen hugely increased attention on this problem in the past few years and we are now waking up to the scale of this terrible practice,” she said.
“What we must always keep in mind, though, is that this is not specifically a British problem. FGM is a practice with an inherently global dimension. And while it’s vital that we do everything we can to stop FGM here in the UK, as well as to support the girls and women affected by it, the reality is that this practice won’t end in the UK until it is ended worldwide.”
Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at Equality Now, an NGO that campaigns for women’s rights around the world, said survivors in the UK were still not getting the medical and psychological support they needed. “Our figures with City University London show that nearly 10,000 girls under 14 living in England or Wales are likely to have undergone FGM. Cases are likely to exist in every single local authority,” she said.
“Providing these girls and also the other tens of thousands of older girls and women with support, examinations and quick responses will help alleviate pain and distress. It will also help ensure that we end this extreme violence once and for all.”
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, with the law being strengthened in 2003 to prevent children travelling from the UK to undergo FGM abroad, but there has yet to be a successful prosecution.
In February, the Crown Prosecution Service came under fire for prosecuting a doctor at Whittington hospital in London. He was found not guilty of performing FGM by suturing a patient to stop her bleeding after childbirth.
The World Health Organisation estimates up to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM, a traditional practice designed to curb sexuality that involves the partial or total removal of the outer sexual organs. The procedure can cause lifelong physical and psychological complications such as stillbirth, the need for infant resuscitation and low birth weights. Babies born to women who have undergone FGM suffer a higher rate of death.
The practice is most common in the western, eastern and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas. In Africa, more than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk from FGM annually.