UK: Hundreds of girls in Liverpool subjected to genital mutilation
Gynaecologists at Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital said they had seen young girls suffering complications after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM). In extreme cases, young girls can die of complications. It can also cause damage to surrounding organs and spark infection and urinary problems. In the long term, girls can be left infertile and prone to severe infections and pelvic diseases.
Police today urged the public to take responsibility for child protection in their communities and report any suspicions about female circumcision.
The most recent figures from Liverpool maternity services identified 237 women with FGM in three years.
In some ethnic communities in the city, 90% of women are mutilated.
But Liverpool Women’s hospital FGM specialist midwife Dorcas Akeju said the figures did not reveal the full extent of the problem. She said only the most severe cases, in which women were left unable to give birth without corrective surgery, were picked up. Mrs Akeju said: “This really is one of the last taboos." "Some of the cases we see and some of the practices we hear about are heartbreaking. There is no way that some of these women can give birth without medical intervention, and some fear if we do they will miscarry. In Liverpool we have been leading the way, working with our African communities to raise awareness and to educate them. We have future plans to develop a gynaecological service specifically for FGM women but our real battle is to ensure this practice stops. We want the FGM women we see to be informed of the law so that they do not do this to their daughters.”
In 1989 the government passed a new law on the protection of children and extended powers within the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
This act made it an offence to carry out the procedure and to take any UK national or permanent resident abroad for it to be done. Anyone found guilty faces up to 14 years in prison.
Mrs Akeju, 63, said: “This is child abuse. We are working so hard in Liverpool with many professionals to stop this practice, while having empathy for the women who have been circumcised and understanding the issues around tradition and culture. We have heard about girls being taken out of the country during extended school holidays, and are working hard with charities to educate teachers on how to spot signs a girl may have been subjected to FGM.”
It is estimated there are 66,000 FGM women in England and Wales and more than 22,000 girls at risk.
Naana Otoo-Oyrtey is the chief executive director of Forward UK, an organisation working to protect the rights of African girls and women.
She said: “Injuries sustained through FGM are equal to grievous bodily harm. As African communities grow, more women are being seen by heath professionals. Unfortunately FGM is a valued practice in some cultures who believe if a girl is not circumcised, she will bring shame on the family.
“As long as there continues to be these beliefs, then this practice will still exist.”
An Alder Hey spokeswoman said girls at the hospital were often too young to have been affected. She said: “The fact we see so few cases is likely to be because problems do not normally occur until later life. It is important to stress that any case at the hospital would be handled with the greatest sensitivity and confidentiality.”
5 February 2008