african woman photoShe was a young girl living happily with her parents in Africa. When she was about nine years old, her aunt came to the house one day and said they were going on a bus journey.  She went along without question.  After a long journey they arrived in a strange area she didn’t know, where some unknown women were waiting. What happened then was shocking. She was pushed to the ground and within seconds felt the most terrible pain and began to bleed profusely. She passed out. When she awoke her aunt had wrapped her in sheets. Eventually she was brought home and could only lie in bed until she started to heal. It was the worst pain she had felt the or since.

She now knows it was what call FGM – Female Genital Mutilation. She was lucky to survive, many young girls die. Yet it is very common in many parts of the world, mandatory in fact. She is grown up now and has a daughter of her own, who is happily now 23 years old and has never had FGM. Why not? Because her mother protected her fiercely and refused to allow it. She was put under huge, intense  pressure to have it done, by family and by the ‘cutters. If she had left the child alone even for a short while she would have been ‘taken’ and ‘cut’. So she carried her child ‘like a handbag’ – never out of sight and always with her. It was the only way to protect her. She succeeded..

They both now live in the UK and she works for a charity trying to prevent FGM.  The story I have just told you is her true testimony as given to me. What happened to her  is considered perfectly normal where she comes from. And in fact worth the risk of dying because to live without having it done is much worse – the pressure and the shame will not end.

I asked her how the women who perform this can get away with constantly pressurising the parents. She said it is because the ‘cutters’ as they are known are very powerful.  It is part of  tradition and they earn a lot of money. They can even influence elections. People are afraid of them because they are made to feel it is imperative. It’s not hygienic either – often the razor blades are blunt from overuse and the huts are dirty as are the sheets used to stop the blood. No wonder many die. But that isn’t important – all that matters is having it done.

I won’t go into detail – it is too horrible to explain  and I’m sure you already know – but I will say it involves cutting, injuring or removing parts of the female genital area… Google it and you will be shocked – and disgusted.  There is a quandary here though – in some countries FGM is being ‘medicalised’ – ie performed by doctors in sterile conditions – but what self respecting doctor would perform such mutilation?  Doing it this way is moving towards making it seem ‘normal’.

Female Genital Mutilation – to give it its proper name – not FGM or Female Circumcision –  is more prevalent than you would imagine. Between 100 million and 140 million females alive today have been through it in some form or other. That’s more than double the female population of the UK. It is most common in  Africa and the Middle East, but many females now living here have suffered it. It causes problems urinating, menstruating and giving birth, happening to most before the age of 15 – which is a violation of human rights. Apparently having it done ensures you are sexually pure – or more truthfully in some countries – more likely dead or severely damaged.

As we know this, how on earth is it that not only do young girls born here get sent abroad for it but that it takes place in the UK too? It is of course completely banned here. We know  that there are more and more charities trying to help affected females, and our already overburdened and broke NHS is treating more and more cases. One FGM case is reported every hour, apparently. Imagine being a British doctor discovering your pregnant patient has had FGM.

So called midwives are flown into cities all over the UK to perform FGM on young girls at so called FGM parties. It carries a 14 year prison sentence yet getting prosecutions has been exceedingly difficult, and as far as I know no one has ever been prosecuted. Teachers and health professionals report it but come up against a wall of silence – police often saying they don’t know what it is or perhaps it is considered too sensitive an issue to risk getting involved in… ?

Why is this happening here and why are young girls allowed to be taken abroad for it? Why, if it is illegal, do we seem powerless? Well, isn’t it like everything else that is undermining our culture? Many people  that come here see no reason to conform, integrate or follow our laws. It doesn’t bother them that it’s illegal,  just going ahead anyway as they feel it is their cultural right. Who can blame them? We do nothing to send out any other message.

The simple answer is to prosecute the parents who, after all, are responsible for their children’s protection, and if they are not  doing this  they should be liable for the specified 14 year prison term, or deportation.  But this never happen.

It is unthinkable that such a barbaric practice now takes place here, but in reality, not surprising, given our silence on grooming gangs, forced marriages, honour killings and everything else that is offensive to our culture but has been brought here against our wishes. (Over 20 years ago I asked a Middle Eastern speaker at Hyde Park for his views on FGM and was told to shut up and go home..)

I ask you, will we ever find our voice again….?

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