Increase in number of child victims of FGM

By Joe Lepper

| 05 July 2017

New figures show that 139 children have been identified by health professionals as victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) over the last year, an increase on the previous 12 months.

A total of 139 newly identified victims of FGM were under 18. Picture: Jon Challicom/posed by model

Statistics published by the NHS show that, of newly recorded cases of FGM between April 2016 and March 2017, 114 were children under the age of 16, and 25 were aged 16 to 17.

This is an increase of 31 per cent on the previous year's figure, when there were 106 newly recorded FGM cases involving under-18s.

In total there were 5,391 newly reported cases of FGM between April 2016 and March 2017. Although 31 is the average age of first attendance by a victim, the illegal practice was carried out before the victim was 18 in 95 per cent of cases. 

Children's charity NSPCC said health services are getting better at reporting FGM but suggested that the number of victims who are under 18 is likely to be far higher, pointing to the fact that its helpline receives calls daily with concerns about or from girls at risk of FGM or who have already been subject to the practice.

"Once more, these figures highlight that FGM continues to affect hundreds of girls and women living in communities across England," said an NPSCC spokeswoman.

"FGM is child abuse. Despite being illegal for over 30 years, too many people are still being subjected to it and it is right that health services have started to properly record evidence of this horrendous practice.

"The NSPCC Helpline is contacted more than once a day by people worried about girls who may have suffered, or are at risk of, FGM. It takes courage to report concerns as many feel ashamed or worry they will betray friends and family. But we need to end the silence that surrounds FGM to better protect children."

The NHS data shows that in 87 per cent of new cases FGM was recorded following a visit to midwifery or obstetrics services.

The country where the procedure was carried out was recorded as "now known" in 4,007 of the 5,391 newly reported cases. Where the location was known, Eastern Africa was the most common location, being listed in 725 in cases.

In April, it emerged that the National FGM Centre, which is run by children's charity Barnardo's, faces an uncertain future as its government funding runs out this summer.

Part of the centre's work is to deploy FGM specialist social workers to support girls and families affected by the practice.

The centre's director Michelle Lee-Izu said its future is still in doubt unless the government commits to further funding.

"The centre's remit is to help eradicate FGM for girls and women living in England by 2030, but this will not happen if it closes down just two years after being set up by the government," she said.

"The government has said it is committed to ending FGM and more funding needs to be found so the centre's work can continue."

Liberal Democrat peer Lynne Featherstone, who campaigns on FGM issues, said: "FGM is an abhorrent, nasty, evil crime and we have to redouble our efforts to end it. Hearing that we are seeing over 5,000 cases makes me incredibly angry, we must do more, working with communities to get the message over that this is wrong.

"It is important to say that these are not new cases of FGM, rather newly recorded cases picked up by medical professionals.

"At this point we don't know if the increase we are seeing is down to greater knowledge of FGM or a rise in cases, but for me, one case of FGM is one too many." 

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