Multicultural Birmingham Has Highest Female Genital Mutilation Rate in UK

In this photograph taken on February 20, 2017, a traditional healer shows cutting tools used to circumcise women in Gorontalo, in Indonesia's Gorontalo province. Female circumcision -- also known as female genital mutilation or FGM -- has been practised for generations across Indonesia, which is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, …
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

A region of the multicultural Midlands city of Birmingham has seen the highest rate of newly-reported cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK.

Last year, the National Health Service (NHS) newly-recorded 305 cases of the mutilation in Birmingham and Solihull, nearly six news victims every week, according to BirminghamLive.

In total, including those already known to the NHS, 385 women and girls were seen by health authorities in the region in 2018/2019. For the vast majority (305) of those victims, it was not known when the procedure was undertaken — a proportion reflective of the nationwide figures published this month.

In terms of historic cutting committed when the victims were children, authorities were able to ascertain that 15 of the cases involved women and girls being less than one year old at the time of the abuse; 15 were aged between one and four years old; 45 were was aged five to nine; and around ten were aged 10 to 14.

The report of the regional figures comes after the NHS released nationwide statistics which revealed that between April 2018 and March 2019, 6,415 women and girls — an increase from 6,260 from the same period the year before — have been identified as victims of FGM. Of those, 4,120 were new cases, meaning the victims appeared in the dataset for the first time, adding to the tens of thousands of women and girls living in the UK believed to have had their genitals mutilated.

Like the regional figures for Birmingham, the nation-wide statistics revealed that it could not be identified in a large proportion (3,895 of the 6,415) of the victims when the mutilation had occurred. The highest proportion of those where the age at which the abuse took place was known were children under the age of five (1,065), followed by girls aged five to 10, where 805 victims were identified.

In terms of where the abuse took place, again there are large gaps in data where more than one-third (36 per cent) of cases have location unrecorded and nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) were simply unknown. More than one-third, 35 per cent, involved cases where the cutting happened in an African country, while 3.6 per cent happened in Asia, and 100 cases (1.6 per cent) occurred in the UK.

“Where both [country of birth and where FGM was carried out] were known, 85 per cent of women and girls were born and had FGM undertaken in an African country,” the report said.

FGM is a cultural practice undertaken mainly in parts of Africa and also parts of Asia that involve the cutting away of a pre-pubescent girl’s genitals. Type 1, a clitoridectomy, involves the partial or full removal of the clitoris whilst type 2, excision, is the removal of part or all of the clitoris, the inner labia, and sometimes the outer labia.

Type 3, infibulation, is the most extreme where the external genital material is remove and the vagina is intentionally narrowed by cutting and suturing the vulva. Other forms of the mutilation include pricking, piercing, scraping, cutting, or burning the genitals.

The abuse can cause not just medical problems, but mental health issues and complications during childbirth. Sometimes, the procedure can result in death. Last year, a father in Somalia — where 98 per cent of women are believed to have been cut — defended FGM after his 10-year-old daughter died after having the procedure.

The practice has been illegal since 1985, with a law coming into effect in 2003 that criminalised taking a female child abroad to have the procedure. However, despite a law being on the books for nearly 35 years, there has only been one successful prosecution, in February 2019, where a Ugandan woman living in the UK was jailed for 11 years after being convicted allowing FGM to be done to her three-year-old daughter.

The court had heard that the mother had used voodoo to attempt to ‘silence’ the health-workers, police, and others involved in the case. Police had found spells and names of those involved in fruit, mostly limes, hidden in the freezer in what was believed to have been a ritual to ‘freeze’ witnesses’ and experts’ mouths during the trial. Whole ox tongues wrapped in wire and struck through with nails and screws were also found, presumably to conjure the same result.

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