Britain wants to fight female genital mutilation by taking away passports

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British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) speaks with campaigners against female genital mutilation at the 'Girl Summit 2014' in Walworth Academy on July 22, 2014 in London, England.
Oli Scarff

LONDON — The British government will fast-track legislation intended to target people who take girls abroad to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) so it is in place before the school summer holidays, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Under the new FGM protection orders, people suspected of trying to take a girl abroad for FGM will be asked to surrender their passport and other travel documents.

Those who breach the orders may be imprisoned for up to five years, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.

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British security forces say some girls are at risk of being cut when their parents take them abroad during school holidays to visit extended family.

FGM involves the total or partial removal of the clitoris and external genitalia. In extreme cases the vaginal opening is sewn closed. Worldwide more than 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM, according to United Nations data.

The government had previously planned to introduce the legislation, which was announced at last year's "Girl Summit" in London, by the end of 2015.

"These new orders will help in the fight against this horrific abuse," Cameron told the Observer newspaper on Sunday.

Since 2003 it has been illegal to take a girl abroad for FGM, and UK border force officers have stepped up education and surveillance of airline passengers flying to and from countries which practice FGM, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls and occasionally on adult women. The ritual is seen by families as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl's purity, with uncut girls ostracized in many communities.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales are living with the effects of FGM, and an estimated 65,000 girls may be at risk.

Solicitor Ali Hussain, who acted for the defense in Britain's first FGM trial earlier this year, welcomed the move but cautioned that investigating agencies would have to use discretion "to ensure this does not turn into a 'witch hunt.'"

"I know of cases where a family has been prevented from going on holiday by police and social services only later to find that their suspicions were wrong. That kind of action stigmatizes a family especially if they are of African origin."

(By Joseph D'Urso; Reporting by Emma Batha; Editing by Ros Russell)