Tom Batchelor, Express, February 6, 2016
Cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) are being reported to health authorities in the UK at a rate of one case every 96 minutes, and experts say it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Official figures released to mark International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM show 5,484 women were victim of the “barbaric” practice between October 2014 and September 2015.
And campaigners expect there are actually more cases going unreported, with the stigma attached to the “horrific” operation potentially preventing thousands more victims from coming forward.
Data provided by The Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed medical professionals had recorded 1,385 FGM cases in England between July and September alone.
The ancient ritual–practised in Africa and pockets of Asia and the Middle East–usually involves the partial or total removal of a girl’s external genitalia.
In its most extreme form the vaginal opening is also sewn up. In many countries girls are commonly cut before their fifth birthday.
Communities which support FGM often consider it a prerequisite for marriage.
Many also see it as a religious obligation although it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
But FGM can cause a host of physical and psychological problems. In some cases girls can bleed to death or die from infections caused by dirty blades.
Nimco Ali, who was cut as a seven year-old and went on to set up FGM charity Daughters of Eve charity, 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. It is something that can be ended.
“We are finally shaking the taboo of FGM, but we have to be vigilant and cannot be complacent.”
The country with the highest rate of FGM remains Somalia where figures show 98 percent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 have been cut.
Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone also record high rates of the potentially lethal practice.
However, overall FGM prevalence rates have fallen in the last three decades, with Liberia, Burkina Faso and Kenya showing sharp falls.
On Friday, the United Nations said more than 200million girls and women globally have suffered genital mutilation, far higher than previously estimated.
UN children’s agency UNICEF said: “If current trends continue the number of girls and women subjected to FGM will increase significantly over the next 15 years.”
The UNICEF data covers 30 countries, but half of girls and women who have been cut live in just three countries–Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.
The new global figure includes nearly 70million more girls and women than UNICEF estimated in 2014.
But this is largely due to the inclusion of data from Indonesia which was left out in 2014 because there were no reliable national figures at the time.
UNICEF deputy executive director Geeta Rao Gupta said: “Female genital mutilation differs across regions and cultures, with some forms involving life-threatening health risks.
“In every case FGM violates the rights of girls and women.
“We must all accelerate efforts–governments, health professionals, community leaders, parents and families–to eliminate the practice.”