Recently released data collected from medical professionals in Britain reported 5,702 “newly recorded” cases of female genital mutilation. But experts say those figures likely don’t represent a complete picture.
A law passed last year requires professionals in England and Wales to report cases of FGM, which helped pave the way for the first-ever survey of medical professionals on the topic.
The Health & Social Care Centre collected information between April 2015 and March of this year from hospital providers, mental health providers and general practices, but warned that the figures should be interpreted with “caution.”
“Data completeness is often low and varies by submitter,” the report noted.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons. Consequences from such procedures include urinary problems, increased risks during childbirth and death, according to the World Health Organization. FGM has been illegal in Britain since 2003.
While collecting such data is key to pushing the government to crack down on such cases, experts say the released figures are lacking.
“It’s great that reporting of FGM by UK health professionals is now mandatory,” Mary Wandia, of Equality Now, said in a statement released to The Huffington Post, “but the numbers…are still just the tip of the iceberg.”
According to Equality Now, 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales are either at risk or affected by this human rights violation.
While the figures may underestimate the amount of cases, the data reveals some key facts about the demographics of the women and girls who are affected by FGM.
Ninety percent of women and girls with a known country of birth were from Africa. Still, there were 43 newly recorded FGM cases of females born in the UK.
But, as Equality Now pointed out, the data fell short of lending context to the issue, since most of newly recorded cases involved pregnant women.
In total, 87 percent of the women were expecting.
But the fact that pregnant women are opening up about their past is bolstering news in its own right.
Pregnant women who have been cut are at risk for difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section and newborn deaths, according to the WHO.
Oftentimes, because physicians and nurses are concerned about “offending” a patient around their “traditions,” they’re reluctant to engage with an FGM survivor about the risks she faces.
This was the case with Sarian Kamara.
Kamara, 39, was cut as a young girl in Sierra Leone, but gave birth to her second of four children in England. While she lay in excruciating pain, she heard the doctors and nurses whispering, but they were reluctant to ask her any questions about her condition, she told HuffPost in May.
All the doctors told her was that she would likely have to have a C-section.
But, finally, when a midwife who was familiar with FGM approached her about the issue, the two discussed Kamara’s condition candidly. The midwife realized that Kamara could have a safe, vaginal birth if they made an incision near her anus.
“If we’re thinking this a cultural issue and we don’t want to get involved, we are not safeguarding people at risk,” Comfort Momoh, a midwife who treats FGM survivors at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospital in London, said at the Women Deliver conference in May. “FGM is everybody’s business.”