New victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Wigan have been seen by NHS services over the last year.
While concentrated on larger cities across England, the new figures surprisingly show that cases are also found in the country’s smaller towns and rural regions.
Figures from NHS Digital show that in Wigan at least 25 appointments at NHS services concerned victims of FGM – where female genitals are cut, injured or changed for no medical reason – between July 2017 and June this year. Of those, at least four were having their injuries recorded by doctors, nurses or midwives for the first time.
FGM is illegal in the UK. Carrying it out or assisting in it being conducted, either in the UK or abroad, can be punished with up to 14 years in prison.
In 2015, the Government introduced Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders. Courts can use them to take preventative measures such as forcing potential victims of FGM to surrender their passport, so they are unable to fly abroad for procedures.
However, just 256 applications for the orders were submitted in the three years to June 2018 in England and Wales. Of those, 248 were granted.
NSPCC head of policy Almudena Lara said: “FGM is a barbaric practice that leaves its victims physically and mentally scarred. The actual number of victims is likely to be even higher, as only a tiny fraction come forward for medical help, and even then they may only come forward after many years have passed.
“It takes courage to report concerns as many feel ashamed or worry they will betray friends and family. We urge any young women or girls dealing with the physical and emotional impact of FGM to seek help and support, and anyone concerned about someone they think is at risk to speak out.”
As well as providing treatment for injuries sustained through FGM, NHS services also advise patients on the illegality of the practice, and provide advice on its long-term health implications.
FGM is most commonly carried out within communities from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and young girls are often flown abroad for ceremonies where FGM is performed.
Of the victims seen in Wigan, the majority did not have the country where their injuries were inflicted recorded. For appointments where this data was recorded, they were most commonly in Northern Africa. Most appointments concerned victims aged 30 to 34, and the majority were pregnant.