MANY girls are still at high risk of abuse through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a year after police launched a high-profile crackdown.
It is estimated that more than 1,000 young girls in the borough are in danger of being abused in this way. But since the launch of Project Azure, no one has been charged for arranging or carrying out the procedure, despite a £20,000 reward for information leading to a prosecution.
However, the Metropolitan Police says it is concentrating its efforts on intervening before a young girl undergoes FGM, either in London or abroad, and has seen the number of girls saved from undergoing this life-threatening procedure rise, with six recorded interventions in Waltham Forest since the campaign began.
Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Ruth Shuver insists the low number of prosecutions is a cause for optimism. She said: “It is not a disappointment. It is more important that it is stopped before children have it done. “When people give us information about children at risk, while we can go through the judicial process once it has happened, the important thing is their welfare – so intervention is more important from a child protection perspective.”
This view is shared by Jennifer Bourne, a specialist worker at the African Well Women’s Service, who has been involved in drawing up guidelines to protect girls from FGM in Waltham Forest. Her support team was contacted by 1,000 women in the borough in the first three months of this year alone.
She said: “I think the campaign is much broader than just bringing a prosecution. We want to inform people and change practice.
“There have been no prosecutions but an increase in the number of child protection referrals, so the potential risk is being identified, which I think is more important.”
Mrs Bourne added: “It is not a religious practice at all, that is a myth. I think in certain communities, you have one religion, such as Islam, so people think it is a requirement of that religion, but there are Christians, Jews and non-believers who do it.
“We want to work with communities and teachers in a positive way. I think once people are informed about the issue – that it is a violation of human rights in the UK and a form of child abuse.
“Once they have had training to recognise that it makes it easier for them to challenge it.”
The police are calling on teachers to be particularly aware of the symptoms of victims in September.
The summer holiday is when the practice is most often carried out because the girls can be taken abroad for the procedure and have longer to recover.
A pilot scheme launches next month which will see teachers at Kelmscott School in Walthamstow and The Woodside School in Wood Street receive specialist training on how to identify and support victims.
If successful, the trainers hope that more schools in the borough will benefit from the scheme in the future.
Anyone who believes a child may be under threat of FGM should contact the Met Police’s Project Azure hotline on 0207 161 2888. Anyone with information on someone who has arranged or carried out FGM should phone the same number, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Anyone affected by FGM can call FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) on 0208 960 4000.
FGM FACT FILE
- FGM (sometimes called female circumcision) is usually done on girls aged four to six, and sometimes babies
- The clitoris and labia may be removed, with often the vagina being sewn up to leave a tiny hole
- An anaesthetic is not always used, nor is it carried out by a medical professional in many cases
- The damage is often irreparable and can cause long-term medical and psychological effects
- It can cause infertility in adulthood
- 6,000 girls are at risk in London of FGM, with more than 1,000 in Waltham Forest
- Often it is done to protect a girlâ€™s chastity, or under misguided religious beliefs
- The summer holidays are the most prevalent time for it to be carried out
- It is both a violation of human rights and a criminal offence to carry it out or arrange for it to be carried out in the UK or abroad
- A prosecution could lead to a maximum prison sentence of 14 years
Author : Mhairi Macfarlane
Source: Guardian Series- 15 August 2008