How common is FGM in England and Wales?

Published: 23rd Jul 2014

"It is estimated that up to 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales could have undergone FGM."

BBC News website, 22 July 2014

"FGM affects 137,000 women in England and Wales, reveals shocking new study"

Daily Telegraph, 22 July 2014

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday addressed the global Girl Summit in London, arguing that female genital mutilation (FGM) could be eradicated "within this generation". The BBC was among the news outlets to report this week that 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales may be victims of the practice.

While the BBC doesn't provide a source for the estimate, it is taken from new work undertaken by campaign group Equality Now and City University, which used 2011 Census data on women born in countries where FGM is practiced to estimate the number of victims currently living in England and Wales.

While this work may be the most sophisticated estimate on the scale of the problem available, it isn't by any means perfect, and relies on the assumption that FGM is equally prevalent among those who move to the UK as it is for other women in their country of birth.

Refining previous estimates

Full Fact factchecked a claim earlier this year that suggested 24,000 girls in England and Wales were "at risk" of FGM, tracing it back to 2007 research.

This week's report from Equality Now and City University updates and refines these estimates, breaking down anonymised Census data on women from countries associated with FGM by age and matching that to the risk for that age group in their country of birth. It also excludes women from ethnic groups not associated with FGM from the sample, which wasn't the case in 2007.

According to the findings, approximately 103,000 women aged 15-49 were estimated to be at risk from FGM in England and Wales, with a further 24,000 women aged over 50. Nearly 10,000 girls aged 0-14 were also identified in England and Wales as being at risk of FGM at some point in their lives.

However, the biggest limitation to these estimates is that it is assumed that the women and girls that travel to England and Wales from a country that practices FGM are equally likely to have undergone the procedure as those that remain in the country.

As the report itself notes, we can't be sure that this is the case: "women who migrate may not be typical of the country as a whole."

Equally, the authors acknowledge that there are several factors that could mean that 137,000 is an underestimate of the number of women living in England and Wales with the affects of FGM.

More women from countries that practice FGM could have moved to England and Wales since the data was collected in 2011, while some immigrants may have been missed by the Census. The figure also doesn't include women and girls who may have been born in this country and subsequently subjected to FGM.

According to the report, these gaps "underline the need for directly collected data" on women and girls, which the Department of Health is currently piloting. So while the 137,000 figure put forward by Equality Now and City University should be understood as an estimate rather than a fact, it does represent the best data on the prevalence of FGM in the UK currently available.


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