Number of girls being treated for FGM rises to 578 in March, as campaigners warn month-on-month increase looks set to continue
A total of 578 girls were treated for female genital mutilation in England in March in what campaigners said was just the tip of the iceberg. The latest figures, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, bring the total of identified cases to 3,963 since data began to be collected on FGM in September. Sixty of the newly identified cases reported involved under-18s.
Tackling FGM has risen up the political agenda since last year, after high-profile campaigns gained public support. A Guardian petition saw the Department for Education write to schools about the dangers of FGM, while steps have been taken by the Department of Health and the Home Office to ensure cases are recorded and victims are better supported.
“Not surprisingly, as more FGM survivors access healthcare, we see a continued increase in the official figures,” Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at Equality Now, said. “However, this number is still only the tip of the iceberg. Last year, we estimated that 137,000 women and girls live in England and Wales who have been affected by FGM. We will continue to see significant month-on-month increases as more women and girls affected by FGM access healthcare. Every month, we are getting a clearer picture of the sheer scale of the issue.”
The monthly numbers have been at around the 500-mark, hitting a high of 608 in December. In February, the number of newly identified cases was 528. The latest figures, based on data submitted by 145 of the 160 eligible acute trusts in England, also showed the number of patients being treated for FGM-related conditions and other non-related conditions at 3,164.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, with the law being strengthened in 2003 to prevent children travelling from the UK to undergo FGM abroad, but there has yet to be a successful prosecution.
In February, the Crown Prosecution Service came under fire for prosecuting a doctor at Whittington hospital in London. He was found not guilty of performing FGM by suturing a patient to stop her bleeding after childbirth.
Thursday’s figures are the last in the monthly series. The next set of “enhanced” data will be published in the autumn and will include data from GPs and mental health trusts. One of the goals of the new data is to provide better evidence for potential prosecutions of those who carry out FGM.
The World Health Organisation estimates up to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM, a traditional practice designed to curb sexuality that involves the partial or total removal of the outer sexual organs. The procedure can cause lifelong physical and psychological complications.
The practice is most common in the western, eastern and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas. In Africa, more than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk from FGM annually.