British schoolgirls are being pressured by their own peers to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), according to anti-FGM campaigner Dr. Leyla Hussein.
Hussein, who herself underwent the practice at age 7 in Somalia, said that some of her clients “who were children or were born in this country” were encouraged to “go and have it done” while in the playground at their schools in London.
She said that, in order to end FGM, we must combat the idea of the procedure as a “tradition,” and that education and information about it must be freely available to at-risk women and girls and their families.
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“We really have to be forceful in protecting children, and unfortunately I will be upsetting people but I personally don’t care if I’m going to upset some community leader … we cannot tiptoe around it," added Hussein, according to the Independent.
Hussein said that, although she moved to the UK at age 12, she wasn’t aware until years later that the procedure was wrong.
“Why wasn’t that information at my GP, at my school?” she said. “Why didn’t my midwife ask me about this? Why didn’t anyone bring this up with me? That’s the real problem.”
FGM is a non-medical procedure that partially or totally removes female genital organs, and at least 16,200 women and girls in Britain have told doctors they’ve undergone the procedure.
It’s believed, however, that the real figure is much higher.
Hussein was speaking ahead of an announcement on Friday that law enforcement agencies from the US and the UK have joined forced to pledge to improve intelligence around the issue.
Thank you @metpoliceuk for asking me to speak @USAinUK last week, by sharing my work at @dahliaproject1@TheGirlGen@Faceofdefiance and @magoolorg which imbeds the importance of working with #Survivors of #FGM and safeguarding frontline campaigners pic.twitter.com/UNwkbgI2f1— Dr Leyla Hussein FRSA (@LeylaHussein) September 6, 2018
Agencies including the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Metropolitan Police, Border Force, Crown Prosecution Service, British Transport Police, FBI, and the US Department of Homeland Security, all signed the agreement last week, and it was announced on Friday.
The agencies will be sharing intelligence about travel patterns between the UK and the US and other parts of the world where victims may be taken for the procedure, according to the NPCC statement.
They will also share intelligence about trends in the practice and information on live cases as well as jointly debriefing cases to build both countries’ knowledge of FGM and learn lessons from each other.
“FGM is a barbaric and violent crime enacted on girls who suffer the results for the rest of their lives,” said the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on FGM, Commander Ivan Balhatchet. “It is child abuse, and no religion, culture, or tradition should be allowed to mitigate or make an excuse for such appalling crimes.
“It is even more traumatic because it is generally committed or facilitated by their families who they should look to for love and protection,” he added.
As part of what’s been dubbed Operation Limelight, officers and social workers will be stationed at airports in the UK and the US — including Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Luton, in the UK, and JFK in New York — as well as Eurostar stations.
The idea is to reach families who might be taking their children abroad for FGM, and they’ll specifically be speaking to people travelling to and from countries where the practice is most prevalent.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of being cut every year. And UNICEF said that in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Sierra Leone, more than 90% of women and girls between the age of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.
British and American law enforcement agencies are stepping up cooperation to tackle female genital mutilation, staging joint operations at airports in London, New York and elsewhere.— NPCC (@PoliceChiefs) September 7, 2018
The agreement was signed last week at @USAinUK. Learn more ➡️ https://t.co/Qr6uYVPAn0pic.twitter.com/IvNvweiv9r
They will also be on the look out for signs of forced marriage, trafficking, and child abuse.
The new interagency pledge also aims to raise awareness of the fact that the practice is illegal in the UK — and has been since 1985 — and that it is also against the law to take someone overseas to be cut.
Despite FGM being illegal in the UK, there is yet to be a single successful prosecution.
Balhatchet warned that FGM is “hugely complex” to investigate and prosecute — often because survivors are reluctant to give evidence against “those closest to them.”
“FGM is not something we can eradicate alone. We need everyone who works with children and young people to be alert to signs of FGM, speak out, and share information with us,” he said.