UK and US pledge to tackle female genital mutilation together

Border security and police in the United Kingdom and United States will share information and intelligence on female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of an attempt to increase prosecutions and prevent the abuse. There have been no convictions of FGM in the UK to date.

FGM or female genital cutting is the procedure where the female genitals are deliberately removed, cut or changed for non medical reasons. It is usually carried out by an adult on girls during their infancy or childhood.

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The U.S.-UK agreement to step up cooperation aims to improve existing operations at airports including London Heathrow and New York’s JFK to spot victims as they are taken to parts of the world to be cut. Girls and young women are commonly taken to parts of North Africa and the Middle East for procedures, before being brought home.

A police commander said intelligence on FGM was “woeful” and the lack of a conviction in the UK was unacceptable.

Leyla Hussein, a British campaigner against the practice, said British schoolgirls are even pressured by their fellow students into having FGM.

In some communities, FGM is thought to be an important religious, cultural and ritual practice. Although the practice is common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is thought to occur in every country.

“It’s not just in Africa and Asia … The fact is FGM is also happening in the U.S., it’s happening here in the U.K, and is still happening to our young girls when they travel abroad,” said Lew Lukens, Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in London (AP).

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FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It has been illegal in the UK for more than three decades.

In the UK, 103,000 women and girls are thought to live with FGM. In the United States, 513,000 girls and women are estimated to have either undergone FGM or be at risk.

Questions to be asked

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  • Where else in the world are there coordinated attempts between countries to combat FGM?
  • How often and girls being taken to other countries from the U.S. and UK to have FGM performed on them?
  • Why have there been no convictions in the UK?
  • What convictions have there been in the U.S.?
  • How do officials intend to identify at risk individuals?
  • What qualifies someone to be an at risk individual?


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A photograph of FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein
Leyla Hussein, a Somali therapist, FGM campaigner and founder of the Dahlia Project that helps survivors of FGM. Photo by: Reka Nyari via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC-BY-SA license

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