Female genital mutilation a growing problem in Britain

London police launch campaign to stamp it out.

Published July 11, 2007 6:27PM (EDT)

According to reports by the AP and CNN (see warning below before clicking on the latter!) the practice of female genital mutilation has traveled to Britain via first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. London's police force today launched a campaign to make clear the practice is considered a crime, with the ultimate goal of preventing it entirely.

They've got a way to go, it seems. One midwife told reporters she treats up to 500 mutilation victims a year. Under a 2003 ban, carrying out the procedure -- or arranging for it to take place, in Britain or even abroad -- is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. But no one to date has been prosecuted. For starters, police are now offering a $40,000 reward for information leading to a first prosecution for the crime.

Officials chose summer to launch the campaign because they believe "the number of genital mutilation cases peaks in the summer, [when] the extended school vacation gives girls more time to recover -- thereby making it easier for those responsible to cover up their actions." That's "recover" only in the most superficial sense, by the way. According to the AP, hundreds of girls worldwide also die.

Now about that CNN video. It does say "Viewer Discretion Advised." But I was thoroughly unprepared for the immediately opening images of an 8-year-old girl about to undergo the procedure; I figured I'd get some sort of warning about when I should fast-forward or mute. I honestly wish I'd never seen it. You, however, have been warned. Let us hope, at least, that the video contributes to raising awareness about a tragedy that persists, as it turns out, not as many continents away as we might think.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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