Youngest female genital mutilation victim was 'aged just seven'

Data relating to cases revealed as NSPCC launches helpline

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The Independent Online

A girl of seven was the youngest victim to be treated for the after-effects of female genital mutilation, according to new data published today.

The details of the case were uncovered by the NSPCC along with evidence of some 1,700 women and girls who were treated by specialist FGM clinics.

The organisation is today launching a new helpline, with support from the Metropolitan Police and the Royal College of Midwives, to combat what they said is an abusive practice being carried out on young girls and even babies.

The charity says that more than 70 women and girls in the UK are seeking treatment every month for problems linked to FGM, and that 1,700 victims referred to specialist clinics in the last two years were likely to be a fraction of the total affected by the practice.

A new UK-wide helpline is aimed at protecting girls who are at risk of the ritual cutting, practised by some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities.

Lisa Harker of NSPCC said today that the victims of the crime were "hidden behind a wall of silence".

"Like other forms of abuse if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer", she added.

"Children who are at risk or victims of female genital mutilation often don't even know it is abusive and harmful because it is done at the request of their family.

"They are told they are unclean and immoral if they are not 'cut' and that it is in their best interest.

"There is also a huge pressure within these communities to keep quiet about female genital mutilation, with some people even being threatened with violence if they speak out.

"This is why we believe a dedicated helpline with specially trained child protection advisers is needed to help overcome the difficulties in protecting children from such a complex and secretive form of abuse."

The procedure, which is often carried out without anaesthetic, involves the total or partial removal of the external female genital organs.

The free 24-hour helpline on 0800 028 3550 and dedicated email address is aimed at anyone concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of female genital mutilation and wanting advice, information or support, the charity said.

This includes the children themselves, parents, other relatives but also professionals working with at-risk families.

Though callers' details can remain anonymous, any information that could protect a child from abuse will be passed to the police or social services.

Detective Chief Superintendent Keith Niven, of Scotland Yard's sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, said: "The Metropolitan Police Service is committed to supporting survivors of FGM and bringing to justice those responsible for committing this horrific crime.

"This practice cannot be disguised as being part of any culture, it is child abuse and offenders will be relentlessly pursued."

Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, added: "We welcome the introduction of a service that provides confidential and independent advice to vulnerable young girls at risk of FGM.

"FGM is child abuse and we want midwives and other health workers, who are on the frontline of safeguarding and protecting girls and young women, to seek information and advice if they are concerned about a young girl or child."