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A one-month-old baby girl in Yorkshire was a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM), it has been reported.
The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme was told that the practice is increasingly being performed on babies and infants in the UK.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, West Yorkshire Police said it had received 17 reports of FGM between 2015 and 2017.
The force said a quarter of those reports involved victims aged three or under.
In one case, the victim was only one month old.
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, which campaigns against FGM, told Yahoo News: “Many mothers allow their newborn babies to be cut. Many victims don’t recall the incident because it happened when they were babies.”
Asked about the age of the victims, barrister and FGM expert Dr Charlotte Proudman told Yahoo News: “It doesn’t surprise me at all.”
In 2015, a report by City, University of London estimated that up to 137,000 girls and women in England and Wales have been victims of FGM, but Dr Proudman believes the actual figure is much higher.
“The figures we have at the moment are definitely the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
“The government is woefully lacking in the support that’s available. Funding is poor.”
Dr Proudman told the Victoria Derbyshire programme there was “a lot of anecdotal data” that shows FGM is being performed on babies.
She said it was “almost impossible to detect” at an early age.
She said: ”These girls are not at school, they are not at nursery, and so it’s very difficult for any public authority to become aware.
“By performing it at such a young age, they’re evading the law.”
Last week, the mother of a three-year-old girl became the first person to be found guilty of female genital mutilation. Her partner was acquitted.
The Ugandan woman, 37, from Walthamstow, east London, were accused of cutting their daughter over the 2017 summer bank holiday.
Police found bizarre spells inside 40 frozen limes and two ox tongues with screws embedded in them aimed at silencing police, social workers, officers and lawyers in the case.
The mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was found guilty of FGM at the Old Bailey. She will be sentenced next month. FGM carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Ms Prem said there has been a “veil of secrecy” around FMG but that she believes the conviction will lead to more awareness.
“I’m very hopeful that medical professionals will be more comfortable reporting this form of child abuse,” she said.
She called on the government to provide “proper funding for an education programme” so children in schools are made aware of FGM.
The National FGM Centre, run by children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said it was “not surprised” by the young age of some of the victims.
The centre said there was “anecdotal evidence from some communities that FGM laws can be circumnavigated by performing the procedure on girls at a much younger age”.
It said: “The girls are unable to report, the cut heals quicker and prosecution is much harder once evidence comes to light and the girl is older.
“There needs to be much greater recognition of this issue across different areas of the UK.”
Asked why it has taken so long for a first FGM conviction in the UK, Dr Proudman said: “People are concerned about cultural sensitivities, worried about being branded racist, and it’s being performed on a very private area.”
The Victoria Derbyshire programme said it had obtained figures showing that 939 calls were made to emergency services in the UK to report FGM between 2014 and 2018.
However, since 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service has only received 36 referrals from police.
Home secretary Sajid Javid said: “We will not tolerate FGM and not rest until perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice.”