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NSPCC launch female genital mutilation helpline

A helpline has been launched to protect UK children from female genital mutilation, after findings from the NSPCC that more than 70 women and girls seek treatment every month, from as young as seven.

Over 1,700 victims were referred to specialist clinics in the last two years. However, the charity believes the true number of victims is even higher as only a tiny fraction come forward for medical help. Those who do are usually adults with maternity problems.

Female genital mutilation is a form of child abuse common to some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities in the UK. This illegal and life-threatening initiation ritual can leave young victims in agony and with physical and psychological problems that can continue into adulthood.

Carried out in secret and often without anaesthetic it involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. Victims are usually aged between four and ten, but some are babies.

Lisa Harker, NSPCC Head of Strategy, said: "The UK's child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Like other forms of abuse if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer.

"Children who are at risk or victims of female genital mutilation often don't even know it is abusive and harmful because it is done at the request of their family. They are told they are unclean and immoral if they are not 'cut' and that it is in their best interest.

"There is also a huge pressure within these communities to keep quiet about female genital mutilation, with some people even being threatened with violence if they speak out.

The Metropolitan Police force is also supporting the FGM helpline as part of its crime prevention work and has provided training to the NSPCC.

The helpline will also provide support to professionals working with children to carry out their duty to protect them from all forms of child abuse. The charity hopes this advice and support will give them the confidence to take action if they are concerned about a child.

The NSPCC believes healthcare professionals are especially important in helping to protect children from female genital mutilation.