July 29, 2011
BBC News Bristol
Men must play their part in breaking the cycle of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a Bristol detective has said.
Det Ch Insp Dave McCallum, who leads the public protection unit of Avon and Somerset Police, said men from communities that practise it "have tended to stay silent on this subject".
More than 120 million women around the world are thought to have undergone FGM, also known as female circumcision.
Illegal in the UK, it is carried out in over 28 countries, mainly in western and southern Asia, the Middle East, including Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and parts of Africa such as Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
It is also illegal for British nationals or permanent residents to be taken to another country for the procedure, but some are sent abroad covertly.
The Bristol Safeguarding Children Board estimates that up to 2,000 girls in the city are at risk.
Reasons given by communities that practice FGM include that it is part of tradition, maintains hygiene, preserves virginity and marital fidelity and, according to some campaigners, a mistaken belief among some that it is a religious requirement.
Various groups say there is no religious text that promotes or supports FGM.
Det Ch Insp McCallum said: "We want men to take a lead and say 'we do not want our daughters or future wives to be mutilated in this way'.
"Men have tended to stay silent on this subject."
But he said some men had now begun to speak out, including at a recent event with the campaign group Forward (Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development).
The World Health Organisation defines FGM as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons".
Health risks include death from bleeding or tetanus, urinary incontinence, infections and chronic pain.
People convicted of being involved in or facilitating FGM could be jailed for up to 14 years, but to date there have been no prosecutions in the UK.
Home Office minister Jeremy Wright has now said the CPS will be issued with new guidelines this summer to assist FGM prosecutions.
'Stop the cutting'
Campaigners say the run-up to the summer school holidays are the most common time when girls are sent to places including Dubai and countries on the Horn of Africa to undergo the procedure.
Det Ch Insp McCallum said depending on the community, ages range from babies to adult women.
For more than two years, Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, Avon and Somerset Police, Forward and NHS Bristol have been working together to raise awareness, including training professionals to spot signs of concern.
Various campaign groups have also been set up to raise awareness, such as Daughters of Eve and Integrate Bristol.
Bristol-based campaigner Nimco Ali, who is of Somali heritage, set up Daughters of Eve about a year ago to help girls at risk of FGM and push for the practice to be stopped.
The 28-year-old, who has lived in the UK since she was four, herself underwent the procedure aged seven while on holiday in Djibouti.
"I only met somebody in my community that wasn't cut a few years ago and she came from Sweden," she said.
"I didn't know anybody from the Somali community that wasn't cut.
"Women are oppressing themselves believing 'it's my culture'.
"I think it will be the next generation - it's about working with them to make sure they understand their rights so they stop the cutting."
Egeran Gibril, 37, a project worker for the Somali Advice Project said: "I think people who are here know it is illegal, they know they will get in trouble if it happens.
"They know it's not accepted here, even those who are very traditional."
Det Ch Insp McCallum said in 2009 there had been four referrals to the authorities in the Bristol area, rising to 16 in 2010.
Those reporting concerns include health and social workers, teachers, family members, and members of the communities and churches.
"We're getting four or five times the number of referrals we were a few years ago across the board," Det Ch Insp McCallum said.
While at least three arrests have been made in Bristol, there have not been any successful prosecutions, he added.