By Alex Cupples
The funding to services being provided to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK is at risk of cuts, campaigners at the Labour party conference in Manchester last month told politicians.
FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons; it has no health benefits to women and is illegal in the UK. Despite this, 137,000 girls and women in the UK are suffering the consequences of FGM and it is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk.
The extent of Female Genital Mutilation in the UK has, until recently, been largely ignored by the government and despite being illegal since 1985, the first prosecutions were not until this year.
In July the issue was addressed when David Cameron hosted a Girl Summit with Unicef. At the summit he called for an end to FGM ‘in this generation’. Measures introduced to achieve this goal, include training for police, Doctors, social workers and teachers to help them recognise potential cases of FGM as well as making it a legal obligation to report such cases. Parents who allow FGM can now also be prosecuted.
David Cameron also promised a prevention programme, in partnership with NHS England, to care for survivors and safeguard those at risk as well as a new specialist FGM service which will include social services, to ‘proactively identify and respond to FGM’.
Last month, Britain’s first specialist FGM clinic for physical and psychological treatment of young FGM victims opened in London. The opening of this clinic marks a step forward in the protection and treatment of the most vulnerable victims. Previously, children were seen either in adult clinics or not at all.
Experts believe that parents are having their daughters cut at a younger age to avoid detection and moving towards less invasive, but still illegal, types of FGM which are harder to detect.
Despite all the positive efforts to put a stop to FGM in the UK, campaigners are still facing setbacks. Councillor Ellie Robinson from Newham council in east London said she feared that due to the lack of data currently available the already limited funds for tackling FGM were likely to be cut. Only £1m has been allocated to the eradication of FGM in the UK whereas £35m has been allocated to the cause overseas.
Robinson fears that the extent of FGM in the UK is underestimated and that without the data to prove the need for intervention it will be difficult to get the funding to set up more clinics.
For David Cameron to eradicate FGM in this generation, it will take much more than the training of teachers, social workers, Doctors and police in recognising and reporting cases. The funding for data collection needs to be given in order to identify trends and set up clinics to help victims of the abuse.
Prevention of FGM also needs to be taken seriously, protecting vulnerable girls from being sent abroad during the summer when it is suspected they are to be subject to FGM and confiscating the tools used for FGM being brought through UK border control.
Politicians are beginning to identify and combat FGM in the UK but it is important that efforts do not fizzle out under economic pressures. Women are still vulnerable in the UK and they must be protected by people who are not afraid to talk about what’s happening.