PASSENGERS at Edinburgh Airport are being warned to look out for the signs of girls being taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation.
Practised in 28 countries in Africa and some in the Middle East and Asia, young girls from birth to 14 years old are subjected to the mutilation of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, normally without pain relief and in unsanitary conditions.
And now Edinburgh Airport officials, alongside Police Scotland and local charity Bright Choices, are offering advice to passengers leaving the country with the aim of raising the profile of FGM, explaining the law and the health implications.
Passengers on flights heading to airport hubs in Europe to then travel to countries in North Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is prevalent, will be a priority.
Often the cultural practice – sometimes referred to as female circumcision – is undertaken during the school summer holidays, when girls are taken abroad by relatives to undergo the procedure, which is illegal in this country.
As the break begins, senior Border Force officer Colin Fraser explained what they were looking for. “The length of stay is quite crucial,” he said. “It’s very common when the schools break up for the holidays that kids are taken away for maybe a week or a two-week period, but if we have young ladies who are going to the Central African belt and they are away for six weeks, we may want to question why.
“The next stage would be to clearly identify exactly what the issue is and, where appropriate, the social services or community organisation Sacro will intervene. But our aim, within our powers, is to stop that person travelling.”
Certain indicators include overbearing adults who don’t let the child they are travelling with speak, any special ceremonies that may have taken place prior to travel or adults being evasive to questions.
Girls at risk in Edinburgh mainly belong to migrant communities and the operation aims to raise awareness within them as well as with others.
Border Force officer Kuliwinder Bains has been engaging with the public at the airport. She said: “In my experience it is a sensitive subject to broach because what we consider to be FGM is not necessarily the perception of the people for who it is a cultural belief or practice.
“It’s difficult sometimes to get that across. We are looking primarily at females who are travelling to high prevalence countries where FGM is a commonplace practice.”
Mrs Bains said that often the girls who are being taken abroad are unaware of what may be done to them.
“There is a role here in educating and raising awareness,” she said. “Especially to young females that this may happen to them.”
Anyone found guilty of carrying out FGM – or helping it to take place – faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine or both. A UK national or permanent UK resident is guilty of a crime if they carry out FGM outside of Scotland or help arrange for it to be done.