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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 12:55 GMT
Female circumcision 'on the rise'
Woman who performs female circumcision
Operations are usually performed on girls aged four to 13
Health workers in the UK are worried cases of female genital mutilation - or FGM - in the UK are rising. BBC Two Newsnight's Zubeida Malik investigated the worrying trend.

Female circumcision is believed to be on the rise in the UK despite a new law to stop girls being sent abroad for operations, the BBC has learned.

The new act aims to stop some African communities evading the law by sending girls overseas for the treatment.

But a BBC investigation has found this has not stopped some parents forcing girls to go through the procedure.

And experts fear female genital mutilation, or FGM, is also being carried out in the UK.

Rise in cases

FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural reasons, has been an illegal operation in the UK for almost 20 years.

Because we have set up a clinic here locally, by word of mouth, more and more women are coming to the clinics so our numbers are increasing quite significantly each yea
Dr Janice Rymer

There are no government figures on how many women have been cut because it is rarely reported to those in authority.

But women's rights group Forward estimates 74,000 African women in Britain have undergone FGM and that 7,000 girls under the age of 16 are at risk.

The procedure is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and 13.

Dr Janice Rymer, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Guys and St Thomas' Hospital Trust, told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that doctors are seeing more cases because of the rise in the number of African refugees in the UK.

"Also, I think because we have set up a clinic here locally, by word of mouth, more and more women are coming to the clinics so our numbers are increasing quite significantly each year," she added.

Harrowing ordeal

Leila was eight years old and on her first holiday abroad when her grandmother decided it was time for her to be circumcised.

My grandma was, like, 'Shut up, you know me - what are you screaming for, it's for your own good at the end of the day'
Leila
"Basically two ladies were holding my legs and they were both sat on me," she said.

"One was sitting on my chest, holding me back, holding my mouth. There were pure towels, a knife and hot water, and the lady went inside me and started proper chopping me and I was screaming.

"My grandma was, like, 'Shut up, you know me - what are you screaming for, it's for your own good at the end of the day'. It was just too much and I was in pain."

Experts say thousands of other British girls have been sent abroad and subjected to the same ordeal.

And they say the new Female Genital Mutilation Act, introduced this month, has not stopped parents sending their daughters overseas for the operation.

There is also growing concern that FGM is being secretly carried out in Britain.

'Not surprising'

Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, director of the Foundation for Women's Health and Research, told Newsnight: "Obviously we work with practising communities, so we do know that FGM is practiced here.

Midwives can identify which mothers support FGM, but the risk to the child can exist for up to 14 years after the birth
Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse
FORWARD
"But then again if you think about it, it's not surprising.

"We've come over here as nurses and doctors and the fact we have left home and come over here doesn't mean we have forgotten how to practise these skills.''

Ms Kwateng-Kluvitse said cases of FGM were rarely picked up because many teachers and social workers were ignorant about the problem.

A children's nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed that the main obstacle to stopping FGM was an inability to identify FGM victims and those at risk.

She said: "Midwives can identify which mothers support FGM, but the risk to the child can exist for up to 14 years after the birth.

"There is no concerted, multi-disciplinary approach to identify which children are at risk and how this risk should be managed over a period of time."




SEE ALSO:
Reversing female circumcision
08 Feb 03  |  Health
Kenyan girls flee mutilation
07 Feb 03  |  Africa


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