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The first ever official figures relating to cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK have been published, revealing the full extent of the problem facing certain communities, as well as the country's medical professionals.
FGM is an emotive issue and the complications that women who have undergone the practice face can be life-threatening, so it is hoped that the new statistics will help to improve understanding of the scope of the cultural practice and result in a greater number of doctors being trained to treat victims.
How much of a problem is FGM in the UK?
Data collated by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that 5,700 new cases of FGM were reported in Britain over the last 12 months, with 8,600 hospital visits relating to the practice or its complications recorded during the course of the year.
Over one-third (37 per cent) of newly-identified FGM victims were originally from Somalia, where FGM is a significant problem, with just 43 of the new cases relating to girls who were born in the UK. Altogether, 87 per cent of females seeking treatment for FGM and related ailments were from an African country.
In total, 18 instances of FGM are known to have taken place in the UK itself between April 2015 and March 2016, while others occur when girls are flown abroad during the school holidays to undergo the cultural practice.
Girls aged between five and nine years old were most likely to be cut, accounting for 43 per cent of all new cases identified over the last year and 106 of the patients visiting their doctor due to FGM were under 18 at the time of their first appointment.
Meanwhile, London was the city where FGM was found to be the biggest problem, with 58 per cent of all FGM-related hospital visits last year falling under the London NHS Commissioning Region.
Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of patients self-reported that they had been subject to FGM and more than 3,000 women were pregnant at the time of contacting the health service, suggesting they were concerned about giving birth in light of their mutilation.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, with a new law introduced in 2003 to prevent girls from being taken abroad to undergo the practice, but this is the first time that official statistics showing the true extent of FGM have been published in the country.
How might this data help to bring about change?
Peter Knighton, responsible statistician at the HSCIC, commented: "This is the first time that annual data have been collected and published to give an insight into the practice and prevalence of FGM in England. The resulting data will support the Department of Health's FGM Prevention Programme and improve the NHS response to FGM by raising awareness, enabling the provision of services and management of FGM, and safeguarding girls at risk."
FGM is one of the most sensitive issues that doctors have to deal with, but by encouraging conversations around the practice to raise awareness of its dangers, health experts hope that mindsets will be altered and those carrying out the procedure will recognise the complications and extreme discomfort it can cause.
The consequences of FGM include excessive bleeding, intense pain, complications going to the toilet and difficulty having sexual intercourse or giving birth naturally, making it highly dangerous for victims. Some cultures believe that girls are 'unclean' unless they are 'cut', but work is taking place all over the world to bring an end to this practice, with Nigeria and Gambia already having banned the procedure.
Written by James Puckle
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