Female genital cutting hot topic in UK parliament

A report found that around 170,000 women and girls were living with FGM across the whole of Britain

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The prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain is a “national scandal,” lawmakers said Thursday, warning that up to 170,000 women may have had the procedure and another 65,000 young girls are at risk.

A damning report from the House of Commons home affairs committee condemned the failure of the government, police, health and education authorities over many years to address what it said was an “extreme form of child abuse.”

Read also: Female Genital Mutilation in U.S. sparks warnings

FGM, which ranges from removal of the clitoris to more widespread mutilation, has been outlawed in Britain since 1985, but the first prosecution only took place this year.

The committee blamed “misplaced concern for cultural sensitivities” for the failure to address a practice largely associated with communities from parts of Africa.

It called for prosecutions to send a “clear message” that the practice was taken seriously in Britain, as well as increased checks by medical professionals on girls considered to be at high risk.

The lawmakers said that if there was no increase in the reporting of incidents of FGM in the next year, the failure to report should become a crime.

“FGM is an ongoing national scandal which is likely to have resulted in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls to whom the state owed a duty of care,” said committee chairman Keith Vaz.

The report suggests FGM is an increasing problem, a fact blamed on population growth and rising migration from practicing countries, notably Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa.

Government figures from 2007 suggested that 66,000 women in England and Wales were living with the consequences of FGM, and a further 24,000 girls under the age of 15 were at risk.

Thursday’s found that around 170,000 women and girls were living with FGM across the whole of Britain, and 65,000 girls under the age of 13 were at risk.

The report hailed France's pro-active approach, although it said it would be “disproportionate” to follow their example of examining all children from at-risk communities, which doctors are asked to do during routine health checks.

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said the government was engaged in a new effort to tackle “this extremely harmful and misguided practice,” working with communities affected as well as health and other professionals.

Prime Minister David Cameron will also be hosting a summit later this year aimed at ending FGM within a generation.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates that 125 million women and girls around the world have undergone FGM, the majority in Africa.

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