“I see these women nearly every day because they come with medical problems, back pain, urine problems, or because they’re having birth problems,” Dr Abe explains.
FGM is predominantly carried out in northern and central African countries, Asia and the Middle East. In Somalia, 98 percent of women and girls are mutilated. It’s also prevalent amongst migrants from these areas who live in the UK.
NHS needs to “get on board”
Dr Abe believes there must be a concerted effort to train NHS staff to spot the signs of FGM.
“I just pick it up like anybody would pick up diabetes or hyper-tension,” she says. “If I see that they have come from the 28 African countries, I ask them, ‘have you been cut’?
“We all need to get together. We all need to get the NHS staff working to take FGM on board. The NHS has got to get on board – and there’s got to be funding for it.”
FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation as a procedure that intentionally alters and causes injury to female genital organs for no medical reason.
Hawa Sesay campaigns to stop the practice of FGM in her community in Hackney in East London, where she says 700 young girls are at risk of being mutilated.
“Hackney is an ethinic minority, multicultural area. More family members have undergone FGM back in their own countries -that’s why the risk to their daughters is greater. That’s why I’m campaigning.”
FGM was made illegal in Britain in 2005. A report, An Unpunished Crime, written by Julie Bindel and published by the New Culture Forum, says the practice “belongs in the dark ages, not in the 21st century” and amounts to “child abuse”.
“We can no longer be complacent. We now have all the tools in place to do what we should have done all that time ago, which is to vigorously pursue a prosecution and think of it in terms of a prevention campaign as well as punishing those who are directly responsible.”
Prevention and prosecution
Perpetrators, including parents who allow their children to be mutilated can be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail. It’s also illegal for parents or relatives to take a young girl back to her home country to be mutilated.
Pressure is now mounting on police forces to prosecute people complicit in this abuse. Detective Superintendent Jason Ashwood is from London Metropolitan Police:
“Last year we had 69 referrals and undertook action in 57 of those cases. We’ve had a huge increase in the number of referrals. What we need is better information about what is happening. It’s not just about charges; it’s about safeguarding and intervention, where we are being very successful, which isn’t talked about enough in my opinion.”
Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer who contributed to the report, said a prosecution is essential to stop this form of abuse:
“It’s very important that the positive work of the past year is continued – hopefully it will yield a prosecution. I think it will. We must keep on pressing for further change and further pro-active work.”