Female genital mutilation 'rising in soft-touch Scotland'

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Media caption"I remember I was screaming for my mum and my grandmother to help me"

A BBC investigation has revealed concerns that young girls are being brought to Scotland to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) because the country is seen as a "soft touch".

Agencies claim that families from England and Europe have travelled to Scotland to have their daughters cut.

They also said girls living in Glasgow and Edinburgh have undergone FGM in Scotland and the problem is increasing.

The equalities minister said anyone who was aware of FGM had a duty report it.

Shona Robison said people who had aided or carried out the procedure, either in Scotland or abroad, faced up to 14 years imprisonment.

FGM takes different forms but traditionally involves the full or partial removal of young girls' genitals for non-medical reasons.

The cutting is carried out for a number of reasons but in many areas girls are cut to improve their marriage prospects.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.

It has long been associated with countries such as Mali, Somalia and Sudan and some parts of the Middle East.

It is estimated about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.

UK legislation to criminalise FGM was introduced in 1985 but since then there has not been a single prosecution. Scottish legislation in 2005 made it illegal to take girls abroad to conduct the practice.

Det Ch Supt Gill Imery of Police Scotland said every daughter born in Scotland to a woman who had undergone FGM should be considered a child protection case.

"It most definitely is a form of child abuse and would be investigated as such," she said.

New Scottish government figures, seen by the BBC, revealed that between 1997 and 2011, 2,403 girls were born in Scotland to a mother from an FGM-practicing country.

However Det Ch Supt Imery revealed that police had not received a single referral from the health authorities.

Raising awareness

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests about FGM to each of Scotland's 32 local councils and 14 health boards.

The majority of health boards were unable to say how many cases they had encountered. Less than a third of the 32 councils had specific local guidelines on FGM and less than 10 cases had been referred to social work.

Image caption About 140 million girls and women worldwide have been cut

Police Scotland has also dealt with less than 10 cases this year but none has resulted in a referral to the procurator fiscal.

Det Ch Supt Imery added: "Across Scotland we've dealt with a total of six investigations or incidents in relation to FGM that have resulted in a form of intervention which we hope has prevented children undergoing this procedure, but none of those reports has resulted in an investigation of a crime, or a report to the procurator fiscal.

"We're doing a huge amount of work to raise awareness within our own staff, unexplained absences from school and clearly working with our partners in education to intervene in that way.

"Health also has a significant role to play, and it's through the process of perhaps ante-natal care, or midwifery, that we will actually have tangible evidence of FGM, and that certainly hasn't been reported to us."

Anela Anwar, of Scottish charity Roshni, said: "Because Scotland has been lacking somewhat in a prosecutions, families are coming up from England and Wales into Scotland to have the practice carried out and that is certainly concerning if Scotland is now being viewed as a place that doesn't take the issue of female genital mutilation seriously."

'Safe place'

Police Scotland has identified almost 3,000 school pupils in Scotland from countries where FGM is prevalent.

They are talking to education directors to look at how to raise teacher's awareness of the issue.

In Glasgow they plan to target more than 1,600 children who may be at risk.

Image caption Det Ch Supt Gill Imery said Police Scotland has dealt with less than 10 cases this year

Fatou Baldeh, of the Dignity Alert and Research Forum (DARF) in Edinburgh, is originally from The Gambia and underwent the procedure at the age of seven.

"I was blindfolded," she said. "Some people held my hands, other people held my legs.

"I remember I was screaming for my mum and grandmother, to help me. But no-one did."

Ms Baldeh said some parents saw Scotland as a safe place to perform female circumcision.

She said: "The UK is behind and among the UK, Scotland is very poor in tackling FGM and supporting victims."

She added: "Because it's getting expensive to take a daughter back home and circumcise or mutilate them, women are putting together money and bringing over someone who can cut the girls and it's cheaper."

UK guidelines state pregnant women should be asked about FGM. However, new research by Ms Baldeh, seen by the BBC, found that pregnant women in Scotland with FGM were not asked about it.

"I spoke to women in Edinburgh and Glasgow who have had children in Scotland within the past three years and I spoke to them about their experience of child birth," she said.

"They were hoping that the health care professionals would ask them if they have undergone FGM and see how they could help them. Unfortunately, all the women that I interviewed were never asked about if they had undergone FGM."

Lothian health board and Greater Glasgow NHS disputed this finding.

Dona Milne, NHS Lothian's deputy director of public health and health policy, said: "Every pregnant woman in Lothian is asked whether they have suffered female genital cutting or piercing at their first ante-natal booking appointment.

"We have one gynaecologist and one obstetrician with specialist expertise in treating female genital mutilation and this is part of their annual caseloads.

"We recently carried out a survey of consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists in Lothian which showed that the numbers of people presenting with FGM was very low.

"Despite the low numbers of presentations we offer advice, support and appropriate treatment for individuals who have suffered FGM."

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "As we do not have the details for the cases referred to in the Dignity Alert and Research Forum research, we cannot comment on these individual cases.

"We can however confirm that as part of the routine booking process for pregnant women they are asked if they have had any surgery or piercings which may affect their ability to give birth."

'Soft touch'

Dignity Alert and Research Forum estimates that in 2009 there were 3,000 women living in Scotland who had been cut. Since then they say the figures have increased.

Sarah McCulloch, director of ACCMUK, a charity set up in response to concerns about girls and women from African, Asian and Middle East backgrounds, said: "I think what we need is a change in approach - the legislation is there.

"In the UK, I think the government, the police, the social services are too politically correct to want to do anything."

She said other countries viewed Scotland and England as a "soft touch".

France has already had 100 convictions over FGM, which it prosecuted under human rights legislation. The French authorities also conduct physical examinations of all girls under the age of six.

Image caption Ms Baldeh was subjected to FGM as a young child and has researched the situation in Scotland

There is work ongoing in Scotland to tackle the practice. The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), along with the Women's Support Project and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership, convene a network of professionals and organisations to work on a more co-ordinated response to FGM in the west of Scotland.

The SRC provides advice and referrals to support services for refugee women who have disclosed FGM. They are also working with NHS Greater Glasgow on a "bridging" project to assess the health of all new asylum seekers.

The NSPCC set up a national FGM helpline this year, and over the course of the first three months, there were 102 calls relating to girls at risk of FGM.

Ms Robison, Scottish equalities minister, said: "Anyone aware of FGM taking place has a legal and moral duty to report it. The police have assured us that they investigate all reported incidents and there is strong legislation in place to prosecute in cases of FGM.

"Between 2012 and 2015, £34.5m has been allocated to tackle violence against women, including FGM. Monitoring a sensitive issue like FGM is difficult. The government will continue to tackle this abuse of human rights."

The Investigation: Cutting Love will be broadcast on Sunday 17 November, on BBC Radio Scotland, at 10:30, and will be available for a week afterwards on the BBC iPlayer

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