December 8, 2016 / 6:59 PM / 8 months ago

Teach new asylum seekers to UK about dangers of female genital mutilation, activists say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Asylum seekers from countries that practise female genital mutilation should be taught about the legal and medical dangers of FGM as soon as they arrive in Britain to protect tens of thousands of girls in the country, campaigners said on Thursday.

The ancient ritual involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia and affects an estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales where it is carried out by various communities, such as Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese.

The ritual, which is done for cultural, traditional or religious reasons, can have devastating physical and psychological consequences and is illegal in Britain.

Researchers of a new study on FGM said information sessions were critical in persuading asylum seekers from countries where FGM is common not to cut their daughters.

"Clearly we need to provide that information," said Naana Otoo-Oyortey, the head of women's rights group FORWARD, which contributed to the study by the EU-funded Men Speak out project.

Otoo-Oyortey said in Britain, a lack of funding meant classes were currently taught on ad hoc basis.

"It should be done systematically," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the launch of the report.

As part of the study, researchers interviewed men from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan living in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands on their attitude toward FGM.

They found that migrants in the Netherlands who had attended information sessions shortly after arriving in the country, were the least likely to think the ritual practice should continue.

"They also learn about FGM and sexuality and they find this incredibly helpful," Sara O'Neill, one of the report's co-authors, told a press conference.

The British interior ministry said information about FGM was included in a pamphlet given to all asylum applicants.

Female genital mutilation has been a criminal offense in Britain since 1985 and new legislation in 2003 introduced a jail term of up to 14 years for British citizens carrying out FGM abroad, even in countries where it is legal.

British authorities have however failed to bring one successful prosecution for FGM in what lawmakers described as a "national scandal" in September.

According to official data, a total of 5,700 new FGM cases in England were recorded in 2015-16, but only a small number had been cut in Britain.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie Nguyen

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