ONLY three calls have been made to a dedicated helpline set up to help youngsters undergoing illegal mutilation, despite estimates that there are thousands of women at risk in Scotland.

The NSPCC set up the phone number in June, last year, to offer support to children who are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, which was outlawed in the UK in 1985 but is known to happen within some communities.

Estimates suggest that around 3000 women and children are at risk but the NSPCC said that just three calls had been made from Scotland to its phone service.

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The charity said agencies must work closer together to encourage victims and survivors of FGM, which involves the full or partial removal of young girls' genitals, to come forward.

Matt Forde, National Head of Service for NSPCC Scotland, said that while we "can't pretend to understand the pressures on families within practising communities, we can work to make disclosure and prevention easier".

"The NSPCCs Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Helpline is just a small piece of this puzzle, but it signifies our recognition that this is unquestionably child abuse and that we are committed to bringing it to an end," he said.

"This is an immensely complex issue which depends above all on community engagement. Not only must we send out a clear message that female genital mutilation is wrong and a violation of women and children's rights, but within our communities and professions we must be educated to be aware of - and sensitive to - this issue, and prepared to act where we have concerns.

"Establishing a helpline creates one clear pathway for individuals to find out more and seek advice, but it is not the solution."

Mr Forde said the legislation making the practice illegal was not enough on its own. "We need to empower women and families within practising communities to say 'no' to FGM, and be there to sensitively support those who have been affected and ensure children are protected," he said.

"We must, as a whole Scottish community, be receptive to understanding the complex cultural barriers."