MARK HENNESSY, London Editor - Irish Times
POLICE IN London and the west midlands are to launch an investigation following the emergence of recordings showing a doctor and dentist offering to carry out, or arrange, female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls.
The allegations against the two, and an alternative medical practitioner, were published in the Sunday Times, which is to be contacted by the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Constabulary.
The majority of British-based victims are from Egyptian, Ethiopian, Somalian and Sudanese families, while young girls from Nigerian, Kenyan, Togolese and Senegalese backgrounds are also at risk, says lobby group Forward.
The Met has been contacted by 166 young girls, since 2008,who feared they were about to be subjected to FGM on the orders of their African parents. Proponents believe it is necessary to curb the sexual appetites of young women.
Up to 100,000 women in the UK are alleged to have been forced to undergo the procedure – defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs” – often without anaesthetic.
The department of health said it was not a matter of personal preference, but “an extremely harmful practice. Professionals should not let fears of being branded ‘racist’ or ‘discriminatory’ weaken the protection required by vulnerable girls and women,” it added.
FGM is illegal, under legislation that came into effect in 2003, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and under 2005 laws in Scotland. It has a penalty of up to 14 years in prison but, despite the suspected number of cases, no one in the UK has ever been convicted.
The General Medical Council has struck off two doctors in the last 50 years for involvement in the practice, including one whose identity was revealed in a previous Sunday Times investigation.
The newspaper, in the most recent investigation, filmed a GP referring an undercover reporter to a dentist who said he would be willing to perform a genital mutilation on girls aged between 10 and 13, while an alternative medical practitioner was willing to circumcise a 10-year-old girl for £750.
The rise in immigration from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan over the last couple of decades has led to a surge in those having the procedure, with one Birmingham midwife saying numbers had tripled in the last 10 years.
The Department of Health acknowledged that some families do not see FGM as “an act of abuse”, but added that it had “severe significant physical and mental health consequences both in the short and long term and must not be excused, accepted or condoned”.
International development minister Stephen O’Brien said the pressure for FGM to be performed on daughters comes from mothers, rather than fathers, with the women believing it is required.
“This is getting into the tradition and embedded cultures, particularly of women. There’s less evidence that this is demanded by men; this is more to do with women’s perceptions of their daughters being stigmatised,” he said.