LONDON, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s first specialist clinic for child victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) opened in London on Monday as part of a push to eradicate the illegal ritual in the country.
The University College Hospital clinic, initially to be held once a month while demand is assessed, will offer medical treatment and psychological help to girls up to 18, who have suffered or may be at risk of FGM - a ritual usually involving the partial or total removal of external genitalia. In its most extreme form the vaginal opening is also sewn up.
Gynaecologist Sarah Creighton and paediatrician Deborah Hodes decided to set up the clinic after noticing an increase in young patients with suspected FGM.
The clinic will liaise closely with police, social care and community groups and will provide evidence and expert witness statements for court cases. It will also help identify and protect girls at risk.
“If a girl is found to have FGM clearly her sisters may also have had it done and they also then need to be seen by us,” Creighton told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“And it may be that some younger sisters can be protected... It’s not just treating girls that have had it done, it’s protecting other family members against FGM, which I think is really important.”
About 60,000 girls under 14 years old, who were born in England and Wales, may be at risk of FGM or have already been cut, according to estimates released in July by rights group Equality Now and City University London.
FGM, which is against the law in Britain, is considered an important practice by some communities including Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese and Egyptians, but it can have devastating physical and psychological consequences.
Until now, children have been seen in adult clinics or not at all. Creighton said although many cities had good FGM clinics it was not appropriate for children to be treated in adult clinics. The children’s clinic will have a play therapist and child psychotherapist. Girls needing surgery will be treated in a paediatric unit.
Creighton said she hoped the clinic would be used as a blueprint for similar services across the country. Referrals could come through police, social services, doctors or schools.
FGM causes a host of problems including chronic pain, infections and menstrual difficulties. Later in life it can affect fertility and increase risks during pregnancy and childbirth. Psychological problems can include flashbacks, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Creighton, who has been working on FGM for 20 years, said data collected by the clinic would give a clearer picture of changing trends.
Experts believe parents are having their daughters cut at an increasingly young age to avoid the risk of them alerting teachers or doctors. There are also indications that some parents are moving towards less invasive types of FGM - such as nicking the clitoris. These procedures are harder to detect but still illegal.
A parliamentary report this year said Britain’s failure to tackle FGM was a “national scandal”. Prime Minister David Cameron hosted an international FGM summit in July, calling on nations to end the “preventable evil” within a generation. (Reporting by Emma Batha. Editing by Alisa Tang.)