Young girls are being sent to Britain for the abusive removal of their genitalia by migrant families across Europe because the country is regarded as a soft touch on the ritual, an investigation has found.
The UK has a reputation for being so tolerant of female genital mutilation (FGM) that parents from some African communities in mainland Europe are bringing their daughters to Britain solely to have them cut – "sometimes during group sessions" – BBC's Newsnight discovered. While the penalties are tough in France – more than 100 people have been convicted there, serving prison sentences of up to 13 years – Britain has never carried out a single prosecution for FGM.
That is despite its being made illegal in the 1980s and 82 cases being reported to the Metropolitan Police in recent years, according to Commander Simon Foy, who ru ns the Child Abuse Investigation Command. He said he was "not necessarily sure that the availability of a stronger sense of prosecution will change it [the incidence of FGM] for the better".
FGM is a procedure which, at the least, involves cutting away part of the clitoris or, at its most brutal, all the exposed female genitalia, leaving only a small opening for urination and menstruation. Women can die from its complications; sexual intercourse and childbirth can be agonising.
Isabelle Gillette-Faye, director of the French protest group GAMS, said she recently learnt of two girls due to be taken from Paris to London to be mutilated. She believes the UK is the preferred destination for many others in African-immigrant communities in France – where, unlike in the UK, young girls are routinely checked by doctors until the age of six to ensure they have not been harmed.
"In England you are very respectful about traditions of every community who live in your country," she said. "In our country it is totally different, because when migrants arrive in France they have a necessity to integrate with our law and traditions. We will not tolerate the mutilation of children."
Some 20,000 girls are at risk of being mutilated in cities across Britain, according to Forward, the leading group campaigning in the UK against FGM.
Amina Yahaya, an 18-year-old British-Somali student living in Bristol, said she knew of "FGM parties" being held in the city. "They cut them all together, as a group," she explained, "because it is cheaper. At first, the girls are all excited because it's a party, until they realise what is going to happen, and then they get frightened."
Sue Lloyd-Roberts reports on BBC2's 'Newsnight' tonight at 10.30pm
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies