1. ITV Report

ITV News Central: FGM special investigation

Siham was seven when she was mutilated in Somalia Photo: ITV News Central

An ITV News Central special investigation has found British girls are regularly being taken abroad to be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), even though the practice is illegal.

FGM is a common practice in Somalia and in many parts of eastern and central Africa for girls between four and ten years old, although it can happen to girls who are much younger or older.

A recent report by the New Culture Forum suggests that around 170,000 British girls and women are living with the effects of FGM.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. It is also illegal to take a British citizen abroad to have it done and can carry a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

The practice involves either the partial or full removal of a woman's external genitalia for non-medical reasons, often with no anaesthetic. In its most severe form it involves sewing up the wound that is left behind, leaving behind only a small opening through which the woman can urinate or menstruate.

Siham, a 20-year-old student from Birmingham, was seven and growing up in Somalia when she came home from school one day and was told to have a shower. Her mother was working abroad in Kenya to pay for her education and she was coming back to visit. At least, that is what her relatives told her. Instead she was subjected to a brutal ritual which scarred her physically and emotionally.

Some people held each leg and my shoulders down and my arms on either side of me. It is the most painful pain you will ever experience. There's no anaesthetics, there's nothing. You feel every little cut that that person does to you and it's not something that can just leave your brain, it's there with you for the rest of your life.

– Siham

Although there is evidence of FGM happening in the UK, no-one has ever been prosecuted for carrying it out. Siham told ITV News Central that girls are usually taken abroad to have it done.

FGM happens in many parts of eastern and central Africa Credit: ITV News Central

It happens on a daily basis. You haven't got anyone telling what you should or shouldn't do. Who's going to check you? If I hadn't had it done, I could have just gone back this summer or last summer and no-one would be any the wiser. So, yes, it's against the law but I don't feel like it's one of those laws that's implemented.

– Siham

Sometimes a woman may not realise she has been mutilated and it often only becomes apparent when she has a baby.

It's definitely increasing; the numbers have trebled at this trust [Heart of England] since the start of the service in 2002. It's averaging about five to six women a week. It has a very deeply rooted traditional cultural aspect that, sometimes, when I question the women about it they don't even know why it's been done. But sometimes it's done to protect promiscuity, to increase marriageability in countries where there's poverty and famine and where families die.

– Alison Byrne, specialist FGM midwife, Heartlands Hospital

The UK's track record on FGM is not good. Even though there is a specific law against it in the UK, no-one has ever been prosecuted for it even though cases have been investigated. In France, where there is no particular law against FGM, unlike the UK, there have been more than 100 prosecutions under general legislation.

However, the tide may be turning. Recently a petition asking the UK government to implement a national action plan to stop FGM gained more than one hundred thousand signatures, meaning it will be debated in parliament. Equally, a government select committee inquiry is investigating why there have not been any prosecutions for FGM in almost 30 years. It is being supported by the Home Office.

Norman Baker MP says the government intends to stamp out FGM Credit: ITV News Central

We want prosecutions to be frank. We estimate there are tens of thousands of women who have been abused in this way and it's not satisfactory for there to be no prosecutions in 28 years. Is it a question for example of reluctance to give evidence against family members? If so, can we get round that somehow? But I'm quite clear this is an abhorrent crime. We have to stamp it out and we intend to do so.

– Norman Baker MP

Even so, until there is a very real change in the approach to dealing with FGM, girls like Siham will continue to suffer - long after the cutting knives have been put away.

When Siham was 12 she had reached puberty and was in so much pain because of what had been done to her as a child, she had to go to a doctor for help.

He didn't understand what it was that I had told him and he actually had the audacity to ask me "Were you born a male?" If anything, he should have known what I was about to say before I even had to say it. Imagine - I was just a kid. And I remember walking out feeling really embarrassed and hoping I would never have to be in that position again.

– Siham
Siham found that the doctors she visited did not know what FGM was Credit: ITV News Central

A few days later she tried visiting a female doctor who did not know what FGM was either. She gave up and has never been to a doctor since.

There are thousands of women across the UK who are in Siham's situation. They know only too painfully that without real determination to bring offenders to justice and to stop this brutal practice, more girls will suffer.

It changed me as a person. I would say that because it felt like it was the main thing that has ever happened in my life, that will always centre around whatever I do, in a way.

– Siham

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