Reports suggest that nearly 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations. Even medics in the UK are offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10.
Investigators from The Sunday Times said they secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform circumcisions or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.
Omar Sheikh Mohamed Addow is a dentist in Birmingham, but was filmed describing how the clitoris could be pierced with a needle and then clamped. “Once they won't feel anything, then you cut with scissors. It will bleed. Then you take the stitches. You close.” When contacted by Sky News he denied he said ever been involved in the act. “I have not referred anyone for this treatment. I am a dentist. I am aware of female genital mutilation and have campaigned against it.”
Female genital mutilation or FGM involves the surgical removal of external genitalia and in some cases the stitching of the vaginal opening, is illegal in Britain and carries up to a 14 year prison sentence. It is also against the law to arrange FGM.
FGM is traditionally carried out for cultural reasons in Africa and with large numbers of immigration from countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia it is becoming more common in the UK. It is believed to be proof of a girl's ‘purity’ for when she marries, but victims often suffer in silence and are rarely given anaesthetic. They frequently suffer long-term damage and pain and often struggle to stand or walk properly.
According to research every year up to 6,000 girls in London are at risk of the potentially fatal procedure, and more than 22,000 in the UK as a whole. The Metropolitan Police said since 2008, it had received 166 reports of people who fear they are at risk of FGM but it has failed to bring forward a single perpetrator. Only two doctors have ever been struck off by The General Medical Council since 1980.
The Sunday Times uncovered a respected dentist who was prepared to circumcise two girls, aged 10 and 13 and a GP who referred an undercover reporter to the dentist. They also spoke to a supplier who deals in alternative medicine who offered to circumcise a 10 year-old girl for £750.
Alison Byrne, a specialist midwife at the Birmingham's Heartlands hospital who has helped pioneer treatment for women suffering from the condition said she has had patients aged between 16 and 40. She said she had some women who had been left with an opening the size of a matchstick through which to pass urine and menstrual blood. Ms Byrne added that as a result many of the women developed severe infections and can continuously bleed for days on end. She has said there is a huge lack of training and knowledge among medical staff which is causing a serious problem.
Doctors at the hospital now offer a procedure called deinfibulation which involves the removal of scar tissue formed by the cutting of the clitoris. It is offering hope to dozens of women affected by the condition.
Minister for equalities Lynne Featherstone said, “Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent crime and we are very clear that hose found to practice it should feel the full force of the law.”
Equality Now campaigner Efua Dorkenoo told Sky News, “Members of the community, family members know about it... there's a lot of pressure. And if you expose it you could be ostracised and you could be persecuted in the community. So people are frightened of coming forward.”
Supermodel turned United Nations ambassador Waris Dirie, who was mutilated aged 5 in her home country of Somalia, is a vociferous opponent of the practice. Calling for a crackdown on FGM, she said, “If a white girl is abused, the police come break down the door. If a black girl is mutilated, nobody takes care of her. This is what I call racism.”
It is thought 135 million women worldwide may have undergone FGM.