POLICE are investigating rising numbers of female genital mutilation (FGM) cases without charging people with offences, new figures suggest.
Forces across the UK revealed dozens of suspected FGM offences had been recorded over the last three years but only a handful of arrests had been made.
The NSPCC said the lack of convictions highlighted the "tough challenge" facing police, while one FGM survivor said the practice remained "secretive" among communities carrying it out.
The figures come after the UK Government unveiled plans to prosecute parents who fail to prevent their daughter being subjected to FGM. Meanwhile, two men facing the country's first prosecution over FGM are due to go on trial next year.
Police Scotland said a strategic group set up last year to tackle FGM had investigated 14 child welfare concerns involving 16 girls in 2013/14. In each case no criminality was found, a force spokesman said.
In a Freedom of Information (FOI) response to the Press Association, one of the UK's biggest forces, West Midlands Police, revealed 49 FGM cases were investigated between January and June, more than the total number of cases the force recorded last year. The force revealed 41 cases were investigated in 2013, compared with 25 in 2012 and eight in 2011. Two people were arrested in 2012 but no one was charged between 2011 to June this year. Scotland Yard did not respond to the Press Association with the number of cases it had investigated.
The NSPCC said police faced a "tough challenge" investigating cases of FGM which it described as "a hidden and complex cultural form of child abuse".
The charity said its FGM helpline had received 321 reports since it launched last June, 148 of which had been referred to police and children's services.
John Cameron, the NSPCC's head of child protection, said: "These figures do not come as a surprise to us.
"We know that the police face a very tough challenge in gaining the appropriate evidence to prove that a child is at risk of FGM."