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Schoolgirls pressured in playground about FGM

Campaigner says girls face pressure from peers to agree to FGM and calls on those in education to help prevent it

Girls are being pressured by classmates at school to have FGM, a campaigner warns

Campaigner says girls face pressure from peers to agree to FGM and calls on those in education to help prevent it

Schoolgirls have been pressured by their peers in UK playgrounds to have female genital mutilation (FGM), a survivor and campaigner has said.

Young girls in Britain can become a victim to a crime which is still seen by some as a cultural practice, warned Leyla Hussein.

Describing FGM as a violent sexual offence, she called for frontline health and education professionals to help in the fight against it by reporting any evidence they come across to police.

Dr Hussein, who suffered FGM in her native Somalia when she was aged just 7 and has spoken out extensively in recent years to raise awareness, is supporting joint UK and US efforts to tackle the issue.

A newly signed proclamation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic pledges to better share intelligence and best practice on identifying victims and prosecuting perpetrators.

In her work as a psychotherapist, Dr Hussein, who founded the Dahlia Project to help other survivors, has listened to young women tell of their experience around FGM in Britain.

She said: "The pressure is still there. I mean, some of my clients are 19-year-old girls now who were children or were born in this (country) and they will say to you they were pressured in a playground in a school in London to go and have it done."

FGM: 'Teachers must protect children'

FGM – intentionally altering or injuring the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons – carries a sentence in the UK of up to 14 years in jail.

Between April 2015 and March 2018, there were 16,265 women and girls recorded in the health service in England as having undergone FGM at some point in their lives, according to the latest figures from NHS Digital.

Of the 6,195 cases recorded between April 2017 and March this year, 150 affected people were born in the UK while 1,715 were born in eastern Africa.

Despite FGM having been illegal in the UK since 1985, there have been no convictions to date.

Two prosecutions under the specific FGM law and another concerning a child cruelty charge related to FGM have resulted in acquittals, while a fourth prosecution is currently ongoing.

Dr Hussein urged people – police, professionals and those within affected communities – not to tiptoe around the issue simply because some people still class it as a tradition.

She said: "Those of us at the front line, we really have to be forceful in protecting children. And, unfortunately, I will be upsetting people, but I personally don't care if I'm going to upset some community leader."

Dr Hussein moved to the UK aged 12 but said she did not know FGM was wrong until years later.

She said: "That's why, for me, education plays a big part, in terms of prevention, because I said if I had some information in my school I might have said something.

"Why wasn't that information at my GP? At my school? Why didn't my midwife ask me about this? Why didn't anyone bring this up with me? That's the real problem."

Changes to the Serious Crime Act, which came into force in 2015, require teachers to report known cases to the police.

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