Doctors across Cambridgeshire have discovered dozens of new cases of female genital mutilation in the last year.
The latest figures from NHS Digital show that around 40 cases of female genital mutilation, known as FGM, were newly recorded by doctors in our area during the year ending September 2020.
That is an average of three cases every month and is around five more than the previous year.
FGM is illegal in the UK, and family doctors, hospitals and mental health trusts must report any newly-discovered cases in their patients.
FGM is the practice of intentionally cutting, altering or injuring female genitals for non-medical reasons. It carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
The procedure and side effects are very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls, and can cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
The overall increase occurred despite the coronavirus pandemic, which saw the nation locked down between March and July.
Hadas (name and some information changed for anonymity) became a victim of FGM when she was just a few months old.
Born in Eritrea, she had no idea she was different from any other girls until she came into contact with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Hadas said: “Most people in Eritrea think that if a girl is cut, she will grow up to be a good girl and will not bring shame on her family and she will marry well.
“If a girl is not cut, they think she will grow up to be a ‘slut’; a girl who thinks about sex and will not be satisfied by one man.”
She was taken for the procedure by her mother while her father was out of town, and only found out what was done to her after she overheard her parents arguing about her mother’s actions.
She then arrived in the UK after she was the victim of trafficking when she was repeatedly raped.
She said: “It was incredibly painful for me, so painful that I couldn’t think. I have grown up believing that this level of pain during sex is normal, but I now know differently.
“I look ahead and see problems in my future with any relationships that I choose to have because I’m afraid that sex will hurt. My periods are painful too and I’ve been told it will be very painful to give birth.”
She said her Eritrean friends don’t talk about FGM, but that education is desperately needed to stop girls like her becoming victim to the same procedures she was: “I believe cutting is something that should be stopped.
“It is a disgusting practice that many people only do because they believe that the stories around it are true and they are uneducated.”
The county’s newly-discovered cases, roughly 20 in Peterborough and 20 in Cambridgeshire, do not necessarily mean that the woman or girl suffered from FGM recently, but that a UK health professional had identified and recorded the case for the first time.
However most of these procedures are conducted outside of the UK. At least five of the girls newly recorded underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14, 20 taking place in Africa, 10 in Western Asia and five in the rest of Asia.
Around 10 were carried out in the UK. The numbers are rounded to the nearest five.
Nationally 3005 more cases were discovered this year, a drop of 23 per cent on the previous year.
Kate Owen, NSPCC Peterborough Service Centre Team Manager, said:
“Any statistics showing a rise in cases of FGM are a significant cause for concern and it’s vital that young girls and women in Cambridgeshire – and across the UK – feel empowered to speak out and seek the help they so desperately need.
“Those who subject their children to female genital mutilation may do so because of cultural norms or because they believe it will help improve their daughter’s preparation for marriage and womanhood.
“However, this practice has been illegal in the UK for over 30 years and is a horrific form of child abuse that has no place in today’s society.
“FGM leaves lasting physical and emotional scars on victims and endangers life. Effects of this practice vary widely from severe pain and infertility to mental health problems such as depression, flashbacks and self-harm.
“The NSPCC has a dedicated helpline, where anyone concerned for someone at risk of FGM can speak to our experts, for free and confidentially.”
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “It is vital that more young girls and women feel empowered to speak out and seek the help they so desperately need. Here at the NSPCC, we have a dedicated helpline where anyone concerned for someone at risk of FGM can speak to our experts, for free and confidentially.”