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The scale of female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales is not being properly investigated due to a lack of consistent high-quality data, according to new research.

FGM, a term which refers to any procedure that intentionally alters female genital organs for non-medical reasons, has been illegal in Britain since 1985 but the law was strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls travelling to undergo FGM abroad.

However, it is estimated that in 2015 there were more than 100,000 women and girls living in the UK who had endured female genital cutting, which is linked with severe long-term complications.

The new report – by experts from The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the University of Salford and a prominent barrister – suggested the mandatory reporting of FGM was “more symbolic” than genuinely effective.

Despite the fact health, social care and education professionals have had a mandatory duty since October 2015 to report any verified or suspected cases of FGM to police, their study discovered a significant disparity between FGM data gained from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and data obtained from police authorities.

The researchers said national data should be gathered by a central authority fronted by an FGM commissioner.

The study examined the number of FGM cases reported to police before and after mandatory reporting of FGM was implemented, in an attempt to determine how the legislation had influenced the process.

Of 45 police authorities in the UK, just six responded initially to a Freedom of Information request, with three stating that no cases of FGM had been reported to them between October 2014 and February 2016.

Police Scotland and Greater Manchester Police provided a detailed response while the Metropolitan Police Service confirmed the number of cases of FGM reported to it. A further nine police authorities provided some data, either in an initial response or on appeal after initially rejecting the request. Read more

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