AS many as 3000 women in Scotland may have suffered female genital mutilation.

Organisations working with female victims told The Herald there are now more women in Scotland from communities where the practice is widespread, and that it may even be happening in this country.

Traditionally girls were mutilated before moving to the UK, or were taken abroad to undergo the practice.

The revelation comes on the international day marking Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Alison Davis, manager of a mental health organisation for ethnic minority women in Edinburgh, said: "The brick wall we are gradually managing to dismantle is the belief that there are very few cases in Scotland.

"This is simply not the case. We are looking at 2000 to 3000 women in Scotland who have suffered female genital mutilation.

"The numbers are growing. The daughters of these women are at risk.

"We need to look at this because it is going to have a big impact on the NHS in terms of the mental health, gynaecological and obstetric care these women need. And for the first time we've been told that it is actually happening in Scotland.

"I am terrified by the lack of knowledge of this from most mainstream agencies.

"Many wrongly refer to it as circumcision."

FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a range of procedures which involve "the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons". It is practised in 28 African countries, and some communities in Asia and the Middle East.

Ms Davis added: "What we need to do is ensure we are talking to people and keeping all the doors open.

"The last thing we need is to push this underground.

"It affects many communities from different parts of Africa and the Middle East. In some of the largest refugee communities in Scotland between 80% and 90% of the women may have been mutilated."

A spokeswoman for the Glasgow-based Dignity Alert and Research Forum (DARF) yesterday called for "an end to this severe violation of human rights".

She said: "DARF conducted a baseline survey in Glasgow and Edinburgh which indicates that a number of women and girls are victims of FGM in Scotland.

"FGM is a harsh reality for more than 140 million girls and women worldwide. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 24,000 girls are at risk of FGM.

"Migrant communities also continue the practice in Scotland. Custom and tradition are the main justification given for the practice."

In the majority of cases FGM is performed with crude instruments, by untrained and elderly circumcisors, and with no anaesthetic.

The spokeswoman for DARF added: "Despite this, there remains little awareness in Scotland, particularly amongst young people, or engagement with communities and families.

"There are many challenges and shortcomings faced by DARF as the opponents of FGM.

"These include the lack of skills and knowledge of FGM among key agencies; linguistic and cultural barriers for women and girls, leading to exclusion and reticence to make use of health services; the lack of coherent guidance or plans on FGM in Scotland and the stigma attached to FGM which results in most women from FGM practising communities not being willing to share their stories with people who do not understand the cultural context behind it."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government considers female genital mutilation a violation of women's rights and a form of physical abuse of girls, under the guise of culture and/or religion. The Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 made it a criminal offence to carry out this act either in Scotland or abroad.

"We work closely with community groups, organisations and individuals who work to combat this abuse and support victims."