LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Female genital mutilation can be “wiped out in a generation” across the globe, Britain’s interior minister Amber Rudd said on Thursday, as she called for everyone to pull together to tackle this “horrendous crime”.
Rudd, who took office four months ago, said she was determined to see Britain’s first successful prosecution for FGM that was made illegal in 1985.
Britain, which has placed itself at the center of the global debate to end FGM, has recently strengthened its law to stop the practice and introduced a new offense of failing to protect a girl from being cut.
It is also working with grassroots organizations in Britain to change attitudes within communities and investing in programs in Africa aimed at tackling FGM in some of the countries where it is most prevalent.
“FGM is a devastating act of violence that no woman or girl should ever have to suffer,” Rudd told a conference bringing together survivors, ministers, health workers, police and charities.
A 2014 study estimated that almost 200,000 women and girls in England and Wales had undergone FGM or were at risk of being cut in a ritual that involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.
In its most extreme form the vaginal opening is also sewn up.
Communities affected by FGM in Britain include Somalis, Sierra Leoneans, Eritreans, Sudanese and Egyptians.
The practice - done for cultural, traditional or religious reasons - can have devastating physical and psychological consequences.
“It stays with you forever and it is a big part of your life,” said Sarian Kamara, 39, a London community worker who was cut as a child in Sierra Leone.
The forum examined what the government and other agencies could do to encourage communities to abandon the ritual.
“FGM is everybody’s business,” Kamara said in a statement after addressing the conference. “Everyone is responsible and everyone can do their little bit to make sure girls and women are protected from these kinds of violence.”
Police say one problem is that girls are highly unlikely to report their parents for FGM - an offense which carries a maximum 14-year prison sentence - and would not want to give evidence against them in court.
They are now concentrating efforts on targeting cutters – the people who perform FGM – and those who make arrangements for girls to be cut, whether in Britain or abroad.
Campaigners believe many girls are taken overseas to be cut during the school holidays.
Worldwide around 200 million women are thought to have undergone FGM.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith