FGM is happening in the UK and we must work together to tackle it
More than 200 million girls and woman have undergone female genital mutilation around the world and, according to the World Health Organisation, a further three million are at threat.
Many think that this barbaric crime happens only in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia – just last week police in Egypt arrested the parents and aunt of a 14-year-old girl who died after undergoing FGM. But there are also victims here in the UK. The latest statistics from NHS Digital reveal that between April 2018 and March 2019 6,415 woman and girls in this country were found by health professionals to have undergone FGM at some point in their lives – and similar numbers were identified in the previous year.
This brutal procedure is committed by the people children should be able to trust the most. In many cases young people are tricked by being told they are going abroad on holiday, only to be cut when they arrive. But, as the first UK conviction for FGM in February last year proved, the procedure is being undertaken in this country too.
Today the world marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and it is a reminder of why police must continue our efforts to combat FGM. Last summer the National Police Chiefs’ Council joined with Border Force to mount an operation at airports across the country targeting those who were taking their children abroad to commit crimes including forced marriage and FGM. However, equally as important as enforcement are efforts to change attitudes and behaviour. During the same operation, officers spoke to hundreds of people and helped train airport and airline staff to spot the signs that a child could be about to be taken abroad to be abused.
In 2018 we signed an agreement with various United States agencies to share intelligence about travel patterns and trends in FGM to help build our knowledge and learn lessons from each other.
We are also working hard to build relations with communities across the country, because information from them is the key to helping officers disrupt and stop FGM - before harm is inflicted. In many cases, the survivor is unwilling or unable to give evidence against a loved one and so any additional information about the perpetrator, or patterns of behaviour, can be crucial to getting a conviction.
But eradicating FGM can’t be done by policing alone. We need to stop this crime from happening in the first place and that can only be done with a joined-up approach across several areas like health, education, social services and charities. The people who are most likely to spot the signs are not police officers, but rather those in regular contact with these children, like teachers, doctors and nurses.
As the national policing lead I am clear that we will take every possible step to investigate and prosecute those who are intent on inflicting this dreadful harm on children. But if we are to really make a true and lasting impact we must redouble our efforts on preventing this from ever happening in the first place.
I would appeal to anyone who has concerns or information, no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be, to get in touch with the police. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.
Some of the signs someone could be at risk of FGM are available on the National FGM Centre website.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for FGM, Commander Ivan Balhatchet