Border authorities in the UK and US are to begin ramping up joint operations at airports in both countries as part of an effort to crack down on the illegal practice of FGM.
Efforts to catch both perpetrators of the procedure for prosecution and victims for counselling will be intensified in the coming weeks at airports in London, New York and other locations, according to reports.
Operations will be conducted by a host of transatlantic agencies, including the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security.
FGM is practiced mainly across Africa, but also in some parts of the Middle East, for non-medical purposes. Estimates say that approximately three million girls every year are forced into undergoing the archaic procedure, which is carried out for the alleged purpose of blunting the female's sexual promiscuity.
Amanda Reid, the national operational lead for safeguarding and modern slavery in the UK Border Force is widely quoted as saying that, "we're here to send that message that FGM is a criminal act and that we want to protect girls."
In terms of how actual victims will be identified, Miss Reid reportedly said that typically enforcement agents will be looking for physical indications that a girl has undergone the procedure, such as whether she has trouble walking or standing. It is also obligatory for authorities to remind families traveling to and from particular locations where the practice of FGM is commonplace that it is illegal in the UK and US, and if discovered, will result in prosecution.
According to reports, the joint operations have been timed to coincide with the end of school summer holidays, which also marks the end of the so-called 'cutting season' — a rather graphic term used to describe the end of the period when girls are taken abroad by family to have their genitals cut.
While cases encountered by airport authorities in the past have been varied, typically, the most common form of FGM is the removal of the clitoris with a serrated blade. Another method is to sew up the skin around the vagina, one particularly popular in Somalia, where 98% of woman aged between 15-49 have experienced FGM, according to the United Nations.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), countries with the highest percentages of FGM in the 15-49 age group are: Somalia (98%), Guinea (97%), Sierra Leone (90%), Sudan (87%) and Egypt (87%).
This is what they use to circumsize our girls 😭😭 #EndFGM #FGM @lolojuberna @AFGMBoard FGM is not my religion. @TheGirlGen @SaveChildren_KE @ENDFGM_Network @ChildFundKenya @EndingFGM @UNICEFKenya @DFID_UK @UN_Women @FirstLadyKenya @UKenyatta @EstherPassaris @UN @UNDP @StopFGM pic.twitter.com/88GMFPze8V— Abdullahi Mohamed Sheikh (@abdul_cantona) August 31, 2018
UK Schoolgirls at Risk
The UK-US initiative comes amidst warnings by Dr Leyla Hussein, who was forced into FGM at the age of seven in her native Somalia, that girls in British schools are at risk of being pressured by piers and family into undergoing FGM.
Miss Hussein, who lives in the UK as a psychotherapist and prominent activist, has been quoted as saying at a conference on the issue held recently in the US' London embassy that, "some of my clients are 19-year-old girls who were children or were born in this country, and they will say they were pressured in a playground in a school in London to go and have it done."
Miss Hussein, who runs the UK-based Dahila project for girls effected by FGM, has said that education is the key to ending the practice, adding that while she moved to the UK aged 12, she had no idea that the procedure was wrong until many years later.
"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," Miss Hussein said.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but so far there have been no successful convictions for the crime.
According to estimates, approximately 16,265 woman and girls in the UK have told their doctors that they have undergone FGM, however it is widely speculated that the figure could be significantly higher as many chose not to report out of fear of being alienated by family members.
Female Genital Mutilation #FGM is a disgusting practice that has to be outlawed worldwide. The UK law needs to be changed so that people can be prosecuted for this diabolical act even if it’s carried out abroad outside of the UK. Women who have suffered this must come forward.— Tony Antoniou 📱➕🚘 = NO (@TonyAntoniou3) September 7, 2018