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Comment: A survivor of female genital mutilation speaks out

Fatou Baldeh appears before the Equal Opportunities Committee at the Scottish Parliament today to talk about the measures needed to prevent young girls in Scotland from suffering a similar fate

AS a result of international migration, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has become a global health problem. Women who have undergone the operation are found all over the world, including Scotland. The increase in relocation of women from practising communities to Scotland has raised concerns that FGM is being performed on young girls in the country and many children are at risk of being mutilated.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as "injury to, or the partial or total removal of, the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons" (WHO, 2004). FGM has been argued to result in both short and long-term complications. The practice of FGM is illegal in the UK under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and in Scotland under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2005.

Despite having been criminalized in the UK, FGM remains prevalent due to immigration. Families that strive to maintain cultural practices by taking children abroad to have the procedure carried out perpetuate the practice further (Dunkley- Bent, 2005). FGM is practised across all socio-economic classes by a range of ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. It is found in 28 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East (Rashid & Rashid, 2007). The highest rates of prevalence (90% or more) have been recorded in Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Somalia and presently women from these practising countries are found in Scotland.

The 2011 census data suggest that at least 2351 women (15-49) resident in Scotland are from a country that practices FGM and a total of 2,403 girls were born in Scotland to parents from FGM practicing countries between 1997 and 2011 (Scottish Government, 2013). The practice of FGM is a serious child abuse crime and reporting of suspected cases to child protection and/or the police should be mandatory. However, In a recent BBC documentary "Hidden World of Female Genital Mutilation in the UK", Comfort Momoh, a UK expert on FGM who travels around the country to help health care professionals, felt that Scotland was not prepared for the number of migrant women with FGM they receive and therefore needs help.

A significant number of women affected by FGM live and access health care services in Scotland and they require appropriate and sensitive care that accommodates their specific needs. Furthermore, there is a need to develop effective strategies that ensures children from practising communities are protected from this harmful practice. Hence, all frontline officers who work with children and victims of FGM should be well trained on the issues of FGM and reporting and recording of cases should be made mandatory. Furthermore, there is a need to raise awareness of FGM in Scotland both within practising communities and the general public.

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