Fourteen cases where girls have been suspected of being at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) have been referred to Police Scotland since the force was set up last April.

Those cases involved 16 girls who were thought to be at risk, but Detective Superintendent William Guild told MSPs that no incidents of FGM being performed were identified.

He revealed the figures as MSPs on Holyrood's Equal Opportunities Committee considered the problem, with a submission from Police Scotland stating that the "prevalence of FGM in Scotland is unknown".

Loading article content

It added: "A national FGM register has been established, indicating that since the 1 April 2013 there have been 14 referrals submitted to Police Scotland relating to 16 children at risk of FGM. These referrals have been investigated and whilst no criminality was identified, interventions have been made on a multi-agency basis to reduce the risk to the children concerned."

Mr Guild said each of the referrals would have been "assessed on a multi-agency basis, with discussions with local authority social workers and police officers who are trained to undertake child protection discussions of that nature".

When asked by committee convener Margaret McCulloch if any child had been "actually harmed", the officer said: "No. There were no cases identified. Most of the referrals that have been made are about a concern or a risk of FGM."

There have been no prosecutions for FGM in Scotland since legislation to deal with the problem was introduced in 1985.

Mr Guild told the committee: "Our sense is there is a lack of referrals coming in about FGM."

He added that "historically there are a number of barriers" to the practice being reported to police, saying: "We need to gain confidence with third sector agencies that we will deal with any referrals in a sensitive manner."

While he stressed FGM was "clearly child abuse, and serious child abuse at that", he also said enforcement of the law alone would not solve the problem.

"If we think that enforcement is the key that is going to solve the problem of FGM then we are mistaken, it's a far wider issue than that," Mr Guild told MSPs.

He said the practice could be "entrenched in affected communities", adding: "It happens behind closed doors, it's a form of familial abuse often without independent witnesses. It happens out of the country on occasions."

Mr Guild continued: "Often the parents actually love their children, the children are loved by their parents, however there is a one off event of extreme violence.

"There's a reluctance in communities to expose that because it's an entrenched practice, so there are a real number of barriers."