Female genital mutilation is child abuse and needs to be reported - this is the message being promoted by Bedfordshire Police on International Zero-Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Day.
The day, sponsored by the United Nations, aims to raise awareness of FGM; a practice which sees the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs and it is illegal in the UK.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are at risk of FGM each year, yet very few cases are reported.
Detective Sargent Katie Dounias for Bedfordshire Police said: “It’s really important that we raise awareness of FGM so that people learn to recognise the potential signs of it happening and report it.
“Supporters of FGM may say that they are doing it in the name of religion, but in no holy book is the practice mentioned, and in the UK it is a very serious crime which carries a jail sentence of up to 14 years. It’s important that those responsible for carrying out this cruel act are brought to justice, but we can only do that when people come forward and tell us that it is happening.
“We are also working with our communities and partner agencies to educate people about this type of crime.”
FGM is typically inflicted on girls aged between four and thirteen, though women of any age and even newborn infants can be affected.
Signs that FGM may have taken place on a child include; a lengthy absence from school, health problems including bladder and menstrual issues, complaints about pain between their legs, and behavioural changes.
A child may also talk about being taken away for a special ceremony, or say that something has happened to them which they are not allowed to talk about.
“If you suspect that FGM may have happened to a woman or girl that you know, or if you yourself have been subject to FGM, please don’t be afraid to come forward and tell someone about it, there are several organisations out there that can help,” added Sgt Dounias.
For further help and information about FGM, contact the police on 101 or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) on 0800 028 3550 – a dedicated FGM helpline.
Find out more about the International Zero-Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day here: http://www.un.org/en/events/femalegenitalmutilationday