ITV News Central: FGM special investigation

Siham was seven when she was mutilated in Somalia Credit: 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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.