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Funding to stop female genital mutilation reduced by 76 per cent despite hundreds of new cases each month

Exclusive: Move described as ‘shocking’ and making a mockery of 2014 government promise to end FGM ‘within a generation’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 20 July 2020 09:53 BST
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FGM survivor recounts her traumatic experience from her childhood

Funding to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) has been reduced by a “shocking” 76 per cent, triggering accusations that ministers are neglecting its victims.

Just £432,000 was awarded in government grants in 2019-20 – down from £1.8m the previous year, and by 84 per cent from £2.7m in 2015 when the Conservatives won a majority in parliament.

The dramatic reduction was described as “really worrying” by one support group, while a leading barrister pursuing prosecutions said it made a mockery of David Cameron's pledge in 2014 to end FGM “within a generation”.

Official statistics recorded 860 new victims of FGM in England in the first three months of this year alone – yet there has been only one successful prosecution, despite laws being on the books for 35 years.

In May, evidence emerged of an explosion in cases of forced marriage and "honour-based" abuse during the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Karma Nirvana, a group training the police, NHS and social services – which reported a 200 per cent surge in helpline calls in March and April – described the funding reduction as “really worrying”.

“I’m not really surprised because, when cuts do take place, it tends to be specialist services that go first,” said Natasha Rattu, its director.

“But we don’t believe for one second that this can be justified. We know that FGM is not going away as an issue, and professionals need adequate funding to identify it and respond.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership contender who uncovered the figures, called it a betrayal of “brave campaigners” who had made the UK a world leader in efforts to stop FGM.

Charlotte Proudman, a human rights barrister who is pursuing the government over an attempted deportation of a girl at risk, called the new figures “shocking”.

“This is happening when high numbers of women and girls are still not being protected from this inhumane practice in the UK,” she said. “It shows the government is not taking FGM seriously.”

The grants are intended to pay for staff to receive referrals on girls at risk, carry out assessments, take out protection orders, and liaise with teachers, medical practitioners and social workers.

But Ms Proudman added: “In court, I really struggle to find social workers with specialist training – they are invaluable and we need more of them.”

The Home Office was asked by Ms Moran to detail “how much funding the government has allocated to tackling female genital mutilation in each financial year since 2015”.

The answer stated it was £2.7m in 2015-2016, falling to £1.7m (2016-2017), rising to £1.9m (2017-2018), dipping to £1.8m (2018-2019) – before plunging to £432,000 (2019-2020).

It comprises grants to the National FGM Centre, run jointly by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, to voluntary groups and to some local councils for outreach work.

Victoria Atkins, a Home Office minister, defended the government's record, saying: “FGM is a crime and it is child abuse.

“The government will not tolerate a practice that can cause extreme and lifelong physical and psychological suffering to women and girls.

“We significantly strengthened the law in 2015 in order to improve protection for victims and those at risk, and to break down the barriers to prosecution.”

She said a further £476,000 had been awarded to projects to tackle FGM, but this was spread over three years.

Ms Moran called for lost funding to be restored, saying: “The Conservative government has overseen a staggering fall in funding to tackle this issue at home.

“Unfortunately, FGM hasn’t gone away and it mustn’t be ignored again. At a time when they should be preparing for adult life, no girl or young woman should suffer FGM.”

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