Special Report: Police fight to protect girls from ‘barbaric’ procedure

Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police
Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police

Girls as young as three are being taken abroad by South Yorkshire families trying to bypass the laws around female genital mutilation. Offenders face 14 years behind bars in the UK

Barbaric, cruel and a monstrosity - just some of the phrases used by South Yorkshire Police to describe the controversial practice of female genital mutilation.

Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police

Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police

Illegal in Britain, but permitted and actively encouraged in some countries, efforts are being stepped up in South Yorkshire to prevent families sending girls abroad for the procedure, where part or all of the external female genitalia is removed for cultural beliefs.

Detective Sergeant Suzanne Bluck has described FGM as ‘barbaric’, ‘cruel’ and a ‘monstrosity’.

With culprits convicted of performing the procedure, or helping someone else to carry it out, facing up to 14 years behind bars in the UK, families keen to follow deep-rooted traditions are sending girls to countries where it is still commonplace, including parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, instead.

But South Yorkshire Police chiefs are trying to keep one step ahead of those attempting to bypass the law and have taken to seeking court orders to protect girls.

We will take action to enforce the law and protect victims

Last month two protection orders were granted in Sheffield for girls police officers feared were about to be taken abroad for the procedure.

Under the orders, the girls’ passports were surrendered.

Safeguarding measures have also been put in place to protect and support the girls.

DS Bluck said: “I hope this sends out a strong message to those who support or seek to enforce this practice either here or abroad, that we, with our partners, will take action to enforce the law and protect victims.

Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police

Suzanne Bluck DS South Yorkshire Police

“FGM is a serious offence and it is notoriously difficult to expect young children to potentially prosecute family members or understand that it is wrong. However, this type of order is a strong preventative and protective measure from the one incident in their lives that causes permanent physical and psychological damage.

“I believe it is extremely important that the brave actions of both victims and others, who report incidents to police, are recognised and we are able to act under the legislation to protect those at risk or who have already been subjected to FGM.

“The results achieved in court highlight how this historic practice still takes place in some cultures and I hope by speaking about FGM and the action we are taking to identify and prevent it, we will encourage others to raise awareness and report any suspicions they may have to police.”

In 2015, a High Court judge granted an order offering protection to a three-year-old Sheffield girl deemed at risk of FGM. She was made a ward of court and placed under a non-molestation order.

DS Bluck said cutting young girls was a form of child abuse and would not be tolerated.

“FGM is a tradition, and where it is already present in families it is the single biggest indicator of risk of potential FGM,” she added.

“We are finding FGM in the UK due to global migration, where the practice has already occurred in their country of origin while females were young.

“Some can’t recall it, some don’t know it’s happened until they are older, some are unsure who cut them. They are also reluctant to speak out against their parents even if their believe their younger sisters may be at risk.

“South Yorkshire Police take FGM extremely seriously and are working hard in conjunction with social care, health and education in assessing and managing the risks of girls being taken abroad on holiday to ensure parents can keep them safe within those communities who think that FGM is normal.

“We would seek FGM Protection Orders in situations such as FGM occurring with the family abroad, when the ‘cutter’ is part of the family or the community, when parents still agree with the practice and when girls themselves feel under pressure to have FGM as they are told they will be cleaner, men will have more respect for them, men will see them as virgins and more valuable in marriage.”

She urged people to report offences and concerns.

“By enforcement and education, suspicions and concerns are being reported,” she said.

“The answer lies within the affected communities themselves. By reporting concerns, they won’t just save one girl, they will save hundreds.”

Nicola Lambe, of Ashiana Sheffield, which runs a support group for FGM survivors, said talking to girls and women in the city was helping to change mindsets.

“Mindsets are gradually changing, particularly of the youngser generations of communities, but this practice has been ingrained in cultures for thousands and thousands of years so often they are a lone voice,” she said.

“It is positive that people are talking and the more who come together to support each other, raise awareness and speak out, the more of a difference they can make.”

She said women have spoken of the procedure still being carried out in Britain, with practitioners - known as cutters - flown in to the country to operate on girls.

“With there being more awareness of FGM it is becoming more difficult for girls to be taken out of the country if airport officials have suspicions, so it can be easier for cutters to come to this country instead, although we know that girls are taken abroad too,” she added.

Culprits face 14 years behind bars

- Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the UK since 1985.

- Police officers in South Yorkshire have been informed of 15 historic cases over the last year.

- The victims were operated on in different countries when they were children.

- Under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 it is illegal for the practice to be performed in Britain. It is also an offence for a UK national or permanent UK resident to carry out the procedure or to help or enable somebody else to do it - in Britain or abroad.

- If convicted, perpetrators can face up to 14 years in jail.

- Anyone with suspicions on those involved in FGM or with concerns for children should call South Yorkshire Police on 101.

- Help, advice and support for survivors is available from Ashiana Sheffield by calling 0114 255 5740 or visiting Ashiana Sheffield