Midwives could be asked routinely to raise the issue of female genital mutilation with pregnant women from communities where the practice is prevalent. The Department of Health is looking at gathering data on the numbers who have been illegally mutilated in an attempt to safeguard children and potentially increase the number of prosecutions.
Campaigners applaud the move, pointing out that often women are not examined during pregnancy and so the first time NHS professionals are aware that a woman has been cut is during childbirth, when it may be too late to give her the help she needs. It is also hoped that collecting the data will help to identify the baby girls at birth who may be at risk in the future.
"Female genital mutilation has not been taken seriously by the authorities to date, as many professionals consider it to be a cultural practice and are reluctant to address this for fear of being accused of being racist by the affected communities," said Efua Dorkenoo, advocacy director of the genital mutilation programme of Equality Now.
Data on the extent of the practice and those at risk was badly needed and midwives would be willing to ask questions, she said. They would need to ask not only whether women had been subjected to mutilation but also whether they had strong links still to communities abroad where it was practised – which would be an indicator of whether the baby, if a girl, would later be at risk. Campaigners say progress is being made by an increasingly joined-up approach. If the health department makes a final decision to incorporate mutilation in the maternal and child data sets after April, that will mark an important moment.
We are the soft touch in Europe," Fyle said. France, by contrast, has significant numbers of prosecutions. Collecting data on women who have undergone mutilation will not only make prosecution and the protection of children easier but will also enable educational efforts to take place in the communities where it is supported. In all instances, children experience confusion, guilt, fear and anxiety. In almost all cases the child victim has a close relationship with the perpetrator of the crime – an adult (usually a parent or family member in the case of mutilation), who holds significant physical and emotional power over them.
The child who undergoes mutilation is silenced and any sense of entitlement to her natural sexuality is removed forever." A spokesperson for the health department said: "Female genital mutilation is a serious criminal offence. "Health professionals should always take action when they believe a child or young person has been assaulted in any way, to protect them and others from further harm.