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Female Genital Mutilation - MPS Project Azure

Report: 8
Date: 4 November 2010
By: Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime on behalf of the Commissioner


This report provides:

  • An overview of how many cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) the MPS has recorded in the financial years 08-09 and 09-10.
  • Details the policy and operational activity of Project Azure (the MPS response to FGM), both enforcement and prevention, and its place in the MPS structure (including its interaction with other MPS units)
  • An overview of the challenges faced when investigating allegations of FGM and what can be learned from other countries.
  • An outline of how Project Azure works with statutory partners and communities
  • Other Project Azure information relevant, or of interest, to MPA Members or the public.

A. Recommendation


  1. Members note the content of this report.

B. Supporting information

1. The majority of cases of FGM are practiced within communities originating from 28 African countries (such as Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and others in the Horn of Africa). However, FGM is also known to be practiced among some Muslim populations in parts of Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Iraq.

2. It is believed to affect 138 million females around the world, and an estimated 66,000 females in the UK. As a result of immigration and refugee movement, some ethnic minority populations in Europe, including the UK, are now practising FGM. Although often linked to cultural practice or religious belief there is no religious basis for FGM. The Bible, Qur’an, Torah and other holy books do not advocate FGM.

3. The procedure of FGM varies within practising communities within each country but it is often carried out in non-sterile conditions, using blunt or non-medical instruments and without anaesthetic.

4. The procedure is typically performed on girls aged between four and thirteen, but in some cases is performed on newborn infants or on young women before marriage or before child-bearing age.

5. The short and long-term health implications for a child suffering the FGM procedure can be severe, depending on the type carried out, but can include both physical and psychological injury.

6. FGM is illegal in the United Kingdom under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003; however there has been legislation in the UK against FGM since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985.

7. The new act came into force in early 2004 and has provided wider international jurisdiction for offences and it is now illegal for girls to be taken from the UK to have FGM anywhere in the world. The new act has also raised the maximum sentence from 5 to 14 years.
8. Project Azure was set up by the Metropolitan Police Service’s Child Abuse Investigation Command (SCD5) to try and prevent this happening to girls in London. This is done in partnership with various UK Government and other statutory agencies and organisations.

Recorded cases of FGM in the financial years 08-09 and 09-10

9. The MPS operates robust procedures to identify those who have been, or are at risk of becoming, the victim of FGM. Dedicated systems have been built into the MPS Crime Recording Information System (CRIS) to ensure that allegations relating to FGM can be quickly identified and investigated. In 2008/09 there were 46 investigations undertaken by the Metropolitan Police; in 2009/10 there were 58.

10. To support investigations SCD5 have developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) (attached as Appendix 1). This document, along with additional information, is available to the general public. It clearly articulates the steps to be taken where FGM is suspected or identified.

11. SCD5’s Partnership Team is responsible for Project Azure but is not an investigative unit. Any cases reported to police that require investigation are dealt with by either the local Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) or SCD5’s Major Investigation Team or Serious Case Team. In support of the SOP, Project Azure provides expert advice and guidance to all investigations in London, including non-SCD5 cases.

12. Project Azure is committed to long-term engagement with communities and partners to raise awareness of the unlawful and harmful nature of FGM. However, all allegations of FGM will be treated as serious matters and investigated fully.

Policy and operational activity of Project Azure

13. Project Azure formally began in 2006 although initial work had been started in 2003 following the introduction of the new legislation. The project’s initial remit was specifically to develop prevention and awareness campaigns to protect girls in London from this harmful but traditional practice. Project Azure has evolved from this and is now the MPS’s lead on all issues of FGM. The scope of the project now is to:

  • Develop prevention strategies and initiatives;
  • Raise awareness and educate police, professionals and communities;
  • Provide advice, support and guidance for referrals and investigations; and
  • Develop intelligence opportunities.

14. It has long been recognized that FGM is closely linked with Honour Based Violence (HBV) and Forced Marriage. Therefore Project Azure links closely with the Diversity and Citizen Focused Directorate and the Forced Marriage Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to ensure there is consistency of approach and join-up of delivery. Project Azure is also identified within the national ACPO HBV guidance as the key driver of FGM delivery.

15. The primary role of Project Azure is one of prevention and protection. The team works jointly in partnership with local and national government, statutory agencies, non- government organizations, communities and individuals, many of whom are survivors of FGM. Whilst all of the partnership links established by Project Azure are critical there is clear recognition within the national coordination framework of the particular importance of health in enhancing identification and prevention delivery.

16. SCD5 regards it as essential that those officers engaged on the Project Azure team are experienced child abuse investigators in their own right before joining. The majority of those at risk of the practice of FGM are young girls and therefore the investigation will, in most cases, be conducted by an SCD5 unit.

17. The project works in partnership with SCD5 CAIT officers giving advice and guidance on all aspects of FGM cases. In addition, the project works with all MPS units who have concerns or are investigating FGM at an operational level. These mainly involve SCD2 (Rape Investigation), Public Protection Desks (PPD) and SCD9 (Human Exploitation and Specialist Crime, who cover human trafficking).

18. Project Azure also provides specialist training to police officers and partners who work within a child safeguarding environment. Other MPS training units have also requested assistance in training including Aviation Security, Safer Neighbourhoods, SCD2, PPD and the Serious Case Review teams.

The challenges of investigating Female Genital Mutilation

Barriers to Reporting

19. To date there have been no successful prosecutions in the United Kingdom for FGM related offences. There are a number of barriers to cases being reported to the authorities. FGM is a hidden crime and is considered a taboo subject within the families of the victims and the communities which practise it. More specifically some of these barriers are:

  • The girl can be as young as 7 days old at the time of the FGM, or so young that she cannot properly recall it being carried out, who did it or where it happened;
  • There have been jurisdictional issues in relation to the fact that it has only been illegal since 2004 to take a girl outside the UK to have FGM. Owing to the lack of ability to age scar tissue and injury it is often not possible to prove that the FGM occurred post-2004, although the further we move away from this date the less likely this is to be an issue;
  • It is unlikely that girls or young women will come forward and report cases against their parents / family / carers as this is generally a once in a lifetime form of abuse and the girls may well be from otherwise loving and caring families;
  • There may be language and/or immigration barriers creating a reluctance to approach and engage with the authorities;
  • Some of those practising FGM, might be recently settled, asylum seekers or refugees from countries where there is an inherent distrust of the police and other authorities;
  • There is a general lack of understanding by communities carrying out FGM of the full negative health consequences of the practice;
  • Many women do not associate health problems with their FGM and often do not seek medical help;
  • There is still a lack of referral or reporting from health professionals and the issue of ‘patient confidentiality’ is often used as a reason why information is not referred on.


20. Project Azure remains the link to each of the CAITs for advice, support and guidance with any referral or criminal investigation. This is one of the most difficult crimes to measure so Project Azure has driven the introduction of the CRIS flagging system described above to assist in identifying possible cases and support investigations.

21. Project Azure has noted that an increase in reports of FGM often coincides with the delivery of its multi-agency training and awareness packages. This has led to a significant number of referrals from midwives and health visitors, including a case where a mother who had been a victim of FGM had female children in the family who were all identified as being at risk of FGM in the future.

22. Most of these cases are referred to as ‘early interventions’ and are when the girl has not yet had FGM but there is some risk to her. Although no prosecutions have resulted they reflect the strong partnership working in place to develop effective preventative strategies to protect children.

23. There have been some cases where girls have been identified as having undergone FGM. In these cases full criminal investigations and joint child protection investigations have taken place. Some of the barriers to those cases becoming successful prosecutions are given below:

  • The victim and/or family stating the FGM was carried out before the victim first came to the UK, meaning they were not UK nationals or permanent residents at the time of the FGM. In every case an ABE interview with the victim will try to gain all relevant information. Where the victim may not be willing or is too young other means of trying to obtain evidence are identified but this can provide challenges for an investigation. In all cases extensive immigration and UKBA checks are conducted, travel documentation checked and airline manifest records checked. Project Azure has also identified suitably trained and competent paediatricians who will carry out medical examinations of victims. There has been considerable discussion around aging of scar tissue and marks but unless very recent it is accepted within the legal system that it is not possible to provide accurate dating evidence.
  • The victim being unwilling to engage in the investigation process and unwilling to become a prosecution witness. ‘Victimless prosecutions’ have been considered by Project Azure and the CPS in these cases. However, there have been issues with some recent investigations that are under consideration where victims have been threatened. These have required careful management to ensure the victim is appropriately protected. In addition with every case of abuse against a child the overriding consideration is ‘what is in the best interest of the child’ and in some cases this will mean that a prosecution is not pursued after discussion of the full facts and other information in a multi-agency forum; and
  • In one notable case diplomatic immunity being invoked following a case relating to a child of a diplomat working for a foreign consulate in London.

24. As previously stated the UK has had no prosecutions for FGM since 1985 when specific legislation was introduced. Throughout the world, but particularly in Europe, where countries have specific legislation against FGM, the situation is mirrored with few or no convictions.

25. The country with most prosecutions involving FGM is France. However, they do not have specific legislation and rely on existing law, generally offences against the person and assault or cruelty. The process needs to be understood to appreciate the reasons why this is the case.

26. In France a girl who has been identified as being at risk of FGM will be the subject of mandatory intervention from the authorities and children’s social care. As part of this intervention there will be a compulsory medical examination at the outset of the investigation, plus annual examinations and examinations when the girl returns to France having been outside of the country. If the girl is found to have had FGM whilst under the management of the authorities the parent or carer could be prosecuted.

27. In the UK there are no routine or mandatory medical examinations of children in child abuse cases. Each investigation is assessed on the relevant facts and there is always careful consideration as to whether a medical examination is required. In addition to human rights considerations of necessity and proportionality there is research to indicate that a child protection medical examination could be considered as ‘abusive’ in certain circumstances.

28. There is currently a proposal to arrange an international law enforcement conference to discuss specifically the issue of preventing and investigating FGM and prosecutions. Project Azure has already been approached with a view to being a strategic partner in this event.

Project Azure working with partners and communities

29. Project Azure works closely with the African Well Women's Service, who operate 11 clinics around London to provide health support to communities. They each see in the region of 500 - 600 adult women annually who have been affected by FGM, mainly to seek advice on managing their maternity or pregnancy. Some of these women have spoken of undergoing FGM as a child in the UK.

30. From the inception of Project Azure it has been essential to work in partnership with all statutory agencies. In addition to primary service providers (health, children’s social care) the project has worked to include representatives from the Home Office, FCO, DfES and CPS in the development of pan-London campaigns and policy.

31. Project Azure also works with NGOs, who generally have either national or international operations, such as FORWARD UK, ACCM, Southhall Black Sisters, VCF and IKWRO. These organisations undertake invaluable community work and are able to facilitate important engagement with practising communities.

32. Multi-agency partnership work with the statutory agencies has placed significant emphasis on joint training, mainly for professionals. A series of joint training events in Waltham Forest, Newham and Barking and Dagenham provided advice and guidance on how to manage FGM disclosures and resulted in an increase in referrals from health professionals, midwives and health visitors.

33. Project Azure has also worked with partners to develop London-wide and national awareness. A comprehensive media and communications strategy has ensured that press coverage is maximized. This has included securing high profile support for initiatives such as the recent Resource Pack launched by Baroness Ruth Rendell and Waris Dirie, supermodel, author and actress, who is a survivor and campaigner against FGM.

34. In cases where there is a referral and/or investigation Project Azure works very closely with partners and community advocates to support the victim and their family. An important aspect of these cases is the education of the families involved as well as consideration of the wider effect on communities. It is clear that in such cases the ‘eyes’ of those communities are focused on how the authorities engage and the outcome.

35. Whilst it is important to be aware of community impact and the cultural context of FGM cases, it is essential that the needs of the victim are prioritised. As a result of ongoing engagement efforts, many partner agencies have been able to provide support workers from those communities to work in more long-term roles with victims and survivors.

36. Project Azure also works closely with community partnership advisors across London who specifically engage with communities to address issues of FGM, children abused through a belief in spirit possession, forced marriage, HBV and child trafficking.

Other relevant Project Azure information

37. There has been significant progress in relation to central government involvement recently in relation to FGM issues. In July 2009 the Government Equalities Office (GEO) produced an FGM fact sheet that was sent to every school in England. This formed the basis of Project Azure’s annual summer campaign with a joint initiative between the MPS, our partners and the Minister responsible for the GEO to raise awareness of FGM locally and nationally.

38. This was followed by the appointment of a cross-governmental FGM coordinator. This post is funded by the Home Office, FCO, DoH and DfES. The creation of this post has meant that there is now central coordination, on a national basis, of all FGM-related activity.

39. Supported by these new structures Project Azure was able to plan and execute a pro-active initiative at Heathrow Airport at the beginning at the school summer holidays in 2010. It has long been recognised that a significant number of girls are taken out of the UK for FGM at the beginning of holiday periods because they will have sufficient time to recover from their wounds before they return to school.

40. This intelligence-led initiative was carried out in partnership with the British Airports Authority, the MPS Aviation Security Command (SO18), Children’s Social Care, the Home Office and a large number of airlines flying to practising countries. Officers and partners engaged with passengers to raise awareness of FGM and highlight the illegality of the practice under British law.

41. This has now laid the foundation for a rolling programme of ‘proactive partnership’ initiatives to enhance the safeguarding provision provided to those at risk of FGM.

42. Project Azure is currently assisting the NPIA with a series of national special interest seminars to raise awareness with police and partners regionally. Project Azure has also supported the development of a training and awareness DVD entitled ‘Stop FGM Now!’ This DVD complements the recently released Resource Pack and already established pan-London procedures.

43. Finally, Project Azure has worked with the Crown Prosecution Service to agree a charging protocol for FGM cases meaning that the Complex Case Unit at Ludgate Hill will take responsibility for reviewing all future MPS cases. This will allow Project Azure and the CPS to effectively use the legislation, develop good practice and maximise the opportunities for successful prosecutions.

C. Other organisational and community implications

Equality and Diversity Impact

1. The work being progressed under the Children and Vulnerable Young People strand of the MPS Youth Strategy, now supported by the HMIC report on the need to improve supervision of high risk cases, has identified key risk factors which when combined, have a predictably negative impact on children and are strongly associated with physical offences against children. These factors include mental health, drugs, domestic violence, repeat victimisation, deprivation and BME background of the victim.

2. In order to impact on these factors, multi-agency work is progressing through the London Safeguarding Board to influence the provision of and access to services to improve the fate of children in these circumstances. Additional effort will be required to impact upon new communities and BME communities

Consideration of MET Forward

3. The ongoing process of improvement to which SCD5 is committed, supports the delivery of all of the Met Forward key outcomes of fighting crime and reducing criminality, increasing confidence in policing and giving better value for money. It specifically supports and enhances the Public Protection and Violence Against Women elements of the Met Specialist and Met Partners work streams respectively through a clear focus on the continued, and continuous, improvement of safeguarding delivery for the communities we serve.

Financial Implications

4. This is an update paper and there are no additional financial implications.

Legal Implications

5. This is an update report for information only, therefore there are no direct legal implications arising.

Environmental Implications

6. This is an update report on current SCD5 performance, staffing and practice. Therefore there are no environmental impacts arising as a result of this report.

Risk Implications

7. There are obvious serious risks associated with a failure to properly manage and investigate allegations FGM. These are set out in the sections above along with the measures put in place by the command to mitigate them.

D. Background papers


E. Contact details

Report authors: DCI John Carroll, MPS

For information contact:

MPA general: 020 7202 0202
Media enquiries: 020 7202 0217/18

Supporting material

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