Parents who arrange for their daughters to be circumcised are being urged to stop the practice as a Met police operation to raise awareness intensifies.
By Irene Madongo
According to the Metropolitan Police’s Project Azure, several communities in London from countries such as Somalia, Sudan and Egypt, believe there is some form of religious requirement for them to carry this out.
Performing a female circumcision or genital mutilation (FGM) can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Police believe families are having the procedure carried out on their daughters in the UK or taking them to destinations including Africa during the summer school holidays.
The school summer break if thought to be the most likely time for it to be carried out as the extended holiday allows time to get over the initial injury to heal sufficiently in time for a return to school in September.
Project Azure’s DC Jason Morgan says: “We understand that there are parents who are under pressure from members of their extended family and the community. And often the decision is taken out of their hands. This adds to the complexity and that is why much of Project Azure’s work is on the education of parents in communities to allow them to make informed decisions”.
Sarah Farah, of the North London based Somali Women’s Group, is strongly against FGM but says it is still held in high regard by some people in her community.
“It is important to them because they wrongly believe it’s a part of our religion (Islam)”, she explains, “also culturally, their parents did it and their neighbours do too, so they think they should do it. When the girl is circumcised, they stitch her up and believe she is pure and her husband is happy.”
The girls affected are aged between four and 14, however in some communities it is as young as four days old and can also include adult women as victims.
Concern remains for the girl’s health as operations are sometimes carried out in unhygienic and dangerous conditions.
Haleema Saeed*, who lives in east London, was eight years old when she was circumcised in Somalia . She says of her experience: “They do it in a really basic way with a knife and scissors and they don’t give you an injection or painkillers. A lot of people get infections and some can bleed to death. It took me ages to recover.”
She chose to do it because she did not want to be out of place in her community.
Nailing down the culprits who carry out the actual operations on the girls is a challenge.
Since Azure’s campaign last summer, three people have been arrested but later released, and no one has been prosecuted, despite a £20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone carrying out the procedure on children in London.
DC Morgan explains that it is a difficult area because the girls fear reporting it as it could lead to their families being implicated.
“One of the reporting barriers is that victims would be aware that a criminal investigation may involve members of their families. In general, in most practicing countries, this is a taboo subject which is usually not discussed even within families and the girl would usually have no idea what was about to happen to her.”
On its anniversary this month, Azure has distributed electronic training materials and awareness packages to professionals, organisations and statutory agencies dealing with children.
According to Forward, a London-based organisation that campaigns against FGM and assists victims, nearly 2,000 women are going to women’s clinics for FGM related support every year from opening up women who have been fully closed to dealing with infections and counselling.
Naana Otoo Oyortey, the director of Forward, says the authorities need to work more closely with community groups to solve the problem.
“A lack of effective co-ordination means the government is not playing its role,” she says, “there’s a government co-ordinated effort for forced marriages, but none for FGM”.
Anyone with any information should contact 0207 161 2888.
*Not her real name
Source: BBC London – 21 July 2008