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Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation in children in the UK

02 June 2018
21 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 6

Abstract

Background

While female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the UK since 1985, research estimated that in 2015 there were over 100 000 women and girls resident in the UK subjected to FGM.

Aims

To determine the effect of changes in the legislation of 2015, which made reporting of FGM in girls under 18 mandatory.

Methods

Freedom of Information requests were sent to all 45 UK police authorities, asking the number of cases of FGM reported between specific dates, victims' ages, the occupation of the person reporting and the age and gender breakdown of the police force. Similar requests were sent to health and social care organisations.

Findings

Of 45 police authorities in the UK, six initially responded, with three stating that no cases of FGM had been reported. The remaining police authorities either provided partial information or declined the request. However, other sources indicated over 6000 reported cases between October 2014 and October 2015.

Conclusions

The ability of frontline professionals and policymakers to obtain, interpret and use data is affected by the secrecy that surrounds FGM, the complexities of investigation and the absence of a significant numbers of prosecutions.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also referred to as ‘cutting’ (World Health Organization (WHO), 2018), has become an area of increasing concern in the UK and other developed countries due to migration, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa (Bewley et al, 2010). However, in the 28 countries for which statistics are available, the incidence varies considerably, from less than 1% of the female population in Uganda to almost 98% of women in Somalia (WHO, 2012). It can be assumed therefore, that prevalence in the UK and other Western countries is closely related to patterns of migration and asylum. While FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and taking children abroad for the procedure a criminal offence since 2003, British-born girls are still being cut, with 112 cases reported in 2016-2017 (Moffat, 2017). Altogether, more than 5000 new cases were reported during the same time span, although most of these were in girls and women born outside the UK. Research by City University in 2015 estimated that there were more than 100 000 women between the ages of 15-49 living in the UK who have had FGM (Macfarlane and Dorkenoo, 2015; Cook, 2016). Such statistics demonstrate the importance of ongoing investigation into how and where girls and women are being subjected to FGM, despite legislation prohibiting both the procedure and foreign travel for the purpose of FGM.

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