An ardent advocate for girls’ rights, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to putting an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) once and for all, even if it means going after the parents who allow the brutal practice to go on.
The prime minister announced the new measures at the first Girl Summit on July 22, an event he co-hosted with UNICEF, which advocated for an end to FGM and child and forced marriage within a generation. Among a number of measures, the U.K. has pledged 1.4 million British pounds (about $2.37 million) to launch the FGM Prevention Program and will begin holding parents accountable if their children are cut.
"These practices are simply a violation of girls’ rights. They are in total violation of the chance to enjoy your childhood and the chance to lead a fulfilling life," Cameron said during the event, which was attended by a number of human rights leaders, including education advocate Malala Yousafzai.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of female genitalia or damage to other female organs for non-medical reasons and comes with a whole slew of medical risks. Girls and women who have been cut are at risk for organ damage, recurring urinary tract infections and birth complications, according to UNICEF.
The barbaric practice is carried out in 29 countries, according to UNICEF, and the Girl Summit underscored the fact that it isn’t just isolated to rural villages in Africa.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the U.S. are at risk of being subjected to FGM. The number of girls and women at risk for FGM in the U.S. increased by 35 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to a study released by advocacy group Sanctuary for Families.
Experts estimate that up 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales could have undergone female genital mutilation, according to the BBC.
While FGM has been illegal in England since 1985, the first prosecutions for the crime did not take place until this year, the news outlet reported.
Advocates in the U.S. have long called on the government to first collect accurate figures before any meaningful steps can be taken to put an end to the practice. A Change.org petition calling for this very action has collected more than 220,000 signatures.
The petition’s plea was fulfilled at the Girl Summit.
Cathy Russell, the U.S. ambassador for global women's issues, confirmed that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will conduct a major study of the prevalence of FGM in America, the Guardian reported.
The announcement was a major boon for Jaha Dukureh, 24, who underwent FGM when she was a child living in Gambia and now lives in Atlanta. She helped lead the charge in demanding that the U.S. do more to understand FGM and the number of girls and women who are at risk.
"I'm so excited because this is exactly what we asked for," she told the Guardian. "It is a great success not just for me but for everyone who has fought for this. But it doesn't stop here, we are not going away. This is a first step in ending FGM in the States, and where the U.S. leads others might follow."