LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British and U.S. law enforcement agencies said on Friday they would join forces to tackle female genital mutilation by sharing intelligence and staging joint operations in major airports and train stations in a drive to secure landmark convictions.
Police, intelligence and border security agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have agreed to share information about travel routes taken between the two countries, and other parts of the world where girls and women are taken to undergo FGM.
An estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide are victims of FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. The ancient ritual can cause serious physical and psychological problems, and prove fatal.
“This agreement will help both the UK and US learn more about FGM, the routes taken by perpetrators and when and where it is committed,” Ivan Balhatchet, the anti-FGM lead for Britain’s National Police Chiefs’ Council, said in a statement.
“We also want this agreement and our joint operations to send a signal those planning to commit FGM that we will do everything we can to protect girls and prosecute offenders.”
While FGM has been illegal in both Britain and the United States for decades, neither nation has yet secured a conviction.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM. The number in the United States is unknown, due to a lack of reliable data, but the government estimated in 2016 that more than half a million girls and women are at risk.
Many cases go unnoticed because they had happened at a young age and abroad, in various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt, campaigners say.
The joint operations will see officers at airports in London and New York monitor flights arriving from such nations to find women and girls who have either undergone or are at risk of FGM.
Officers will talk to passengers about the law, the harm caused by the procedure and how to report concerns, according to the agreement, which has been backed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Communities like ours are tight ... it’s a hidden crime,” said Sarian Karim Kamara, a London community worker and anti-FGM activist who underwent FGM as a child in Sierra Leone.
“You have to prove everything beyond all reasonable doubt to get a prosecution,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporting By Amber Milne, Editing by Kieran Guilbert Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org