Female genital mutilation: Thousands of women at risk in England and Wales

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Britain is set to host its first ‘Girl Summit’ to tackle child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Around 137000 women in England and Wales are living with female genital mutilation.

The report, which was compiled by Equality Now, a women’s charity, and City University London, estimate that the numbers have increased during the decade from 2001 to 2011.

The ‘Girl Summit’, which is co-hosted by UNICEF and the UK Government, will take place on 22 July in London.

The study involved an assessment of data taken from surveys done in 29 countries where FGM is practised, as well as data from the 2011 census about females who had migrated from these countries.

It is estimated that around 103000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, and 24000 over the age of 50, who migrated to England and Wales are living with the after-effects of FGM. Additionally, about 10000 girls under the age of 15 and 24000 women aged 50 and older who migrated to England and Wales have undergone FGM.

This indicates that 137000 women and girls who have been affected by FGM or who were born in countries where the practise is still active were residing permanently in England and Wales during 2011.

When researchers combined the survey data with birth data obtained from the Office for National Statistics, it estimated that around 60000 girls in England and Wales, aged under 14, have been born to mothers who had experienced genital cutting.

Census information indicates that the numbers of females born in countries situated in the Horn of Africa, where FGM is widespread and the most severe form, infibulation, is used, increased from 22000 in 2001 to 56000 in 2011.

During the same period, the numbers of women from countries located in West and East Africa, where FGM Types I and II, clitoridectomy without or with excision of the labia minora, are very common, increased by 10000.

According to the World Health Organisation 100 to 140 million females globally have undergone some form of mutilation.

Britain outlawed this practice in 1985 and during 2012, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution whereby all member states were asked to ban the act.

The practice is motivated by the belief that it is proper sexual behaviour for a female or it prepares a female for adulthood and marriage. It is an extremely dangerous practice which results in urination problems, infertility, infections, severe bleeding, and sometimes death.

A senior FGM adviser to Equality Now, Efua Dorkenoo, said the government needs to control this severe abuse of the most vulnerable girls in society by the implementation of a national plan to address this problem.

She added that professionals are desperate to receive clear guidance on the referral pathways for early identification of girls who are at risk and steps for documenting and sharing information on FGM between child social care, education, health and the police authorities.

A professor of perinatal health at City University London, Alison Macfarlane, said that the estimates are limited as they make the assumption that women who have migrated are generally typical of the females in their country. She said that they should be used as guidance signposts for professionals to plan services for those women who have been affected and their daughter, instead of hard facts.

Image Credit: Kheel Center

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