The number of women living in the UK who have experienced female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) has risen dramatically, a new report suggests.
It shows that the practice has been carried out on 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales.
The City University London and Equality Now study comes as the Prime Minister today hosts the UK’s first ever Girl Summit, which aims to end FGM/C and forced marriage.
It shows that there are around 103,00 FGM/C survivors aged 15-49 in the UK, 24,000 women aged 50 and over, and 10,000 young girls aged under 15. These women and girls are thought to have migrated from countries where the practice of cutting girls’ genitalia–illegal in the UK–is carried out in the name of culture, tradition and religion.
The study suggests that the numbers are a significant increase since the last comparable report in 2001, as the number of women living in the UK originally from FGM/C practising countries has risen from 182,000 in 2001 to 283,000 in 2011.
Experts suggest this means a rise in the amount of women living in the UK who have experienced FGM/C abroad.
Alison Macfarlane, professor of perinatal health at City University London, who lead the study, said: “[These estimates] are needed as it is difficult to collect data directly about the numbers of women affected.
“They should be used as signposts to guide professionals in planning services for affected women and their daughters, rather than hard and fast facts.
“It is also important to set [FGM/C] in context with other problems experienced by migrant women, many of whom have come to England and Wales from areas in conflict.”
Globally, more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM/C, according to new UNICEF data. There has been an overall decline in the last three decades, but if action to prevent it is not taken, as many as 30 million girls alive today could be cut in the next decade.
Up to 63 million more could be cut by 2050, even with current declining rates, because of high population growth.
UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said: “The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts. And let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives.
“While these are problems on a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate FGM/C and child marriage.”
FGM/C is also practised illegally in the UK. There are no figures but the Government’s forced marriage unit gave advice in more than 1,300 cases in the UK last year and 20,000 are thought to be at risk each year.
Home secretary Theresa May, who is leading Girl Summit alongside International development secretary Justine Greening, wrote exclusively for Telegraph Wonder Women on how the Government plans to end FGM/C and forced marriage here in the UK.
She said: “It is heartbreaking that these hidden crimes still exist in our society and threaten the well-being of a generation of girls.
“We know that legislation alone is not enough, but it sends a clear message: that this practice is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK.
“Every case of FGM/C is a tragedy and its very nature means that many cases go unreported. However, we are determined to see perpetrators of FGM/C brought to account in court. We are also working with community and religious leaders, as we know the important role they play in changing attitudes.”
The Girl Summit will bring together heads of state, survivors and charities from across the world to try and end FGM/C, forced marriage and child marriage–both in the UK and overseas.
More than 700 million women alive today were married as children, according to UNICEF, and more than 250 million of these before the age of 15.
If there is no reduction, up to 280 million girls alive today are at risk of becoming brides by the time they’re 18, and this will reach 320 million by 2050.
Lake said: “FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential.
“They are detriments to the girls themselves, their families and their societies.
“Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits.”